First deep sea mine opens up

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Plans by a Canadian mining firm to extract ores of copper, gold and other metals from the seabed have been approved for a site in Papua New Guinea, despite environmentalists warning that the practice will wreck the marine ecosystem and could cause terrible losses.

Nautilus Minerals company has reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea’s government over the license to extract precious minerals from deep underwater in the Solwara-1 mine. The country will get a 15% stake in the project.

Speaking to BBC News, Mike Johnston, CEO of Nautilus Minerals, said, “It’s a taken a long time but everybody is very happy. There’s always been a lot of support for this project and it’s very appealing that it will generate a significant amount of revenue in a region that wouldn’t ordinarily expect that to happen.”

The practice of extracting valuable minerals from the seabed has emerged over the past few years but was initially put on hold because more research was needed on its consequences and legislation to regulate it was lacking. Around 20 licences have been approved so far for deep-sea mining projects.

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    Environmental campaigners have claimed that not enough is known about deep-sea ecosystems, meaning that the effects of mining this environment on fauna and flora could be devastating.

    The company has said it has ensured that the site is very resilient and that the impact of extraction will be minimal. It expects the environment to recover in five to ten years.

    In February, a group of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science warned that a strong and clear policy framework was needed in this new sector before projects could go on, in order to avoid environmental devastation.

    Photo: Derek Keats via flickr

    Further reading:

    Scientists call for urgent environmental regulations for deep sea mining

    Investment needed to recover marine ecosystems, says WWF

    Deep sea mining ‘highly questionable’ once costs are weighed up, say campaigners

    Climate change will bring ‘staggering’ deep-sea ecosystem changes

    Scientists disappointed with government’s protection of seas