26 Jul 2013

Miner advocates cautious approach to sea bed mining in Solomons

5:34 pm on 26 July 2013

The mining company exploring for deep sea minerals in Temotu Province of Solomon Islands insists it's taking a very cautious approach to its work.

Australia-based Bluewater Metals was granted a licence last year to search for gold in sites around Temotu.

Greenpeace has found the potential impact of deep sea mining is not properly understood yet and Temotu people concerned about the environmental impact of deep sea mining are calling for more consultations before it proceeds.

Bluewater's co-founder Timothy McConachy told Johnny Blades their highest priority is the environment.

TIMOTHY MCCONACHY: We're taking baby steps every step of the way so that we can assess and review the outcomes of our work. And we'll proceed to the next step with care once we've assessed these baby steps. In exploration we're not damaging the environment in really any way. It's as much or as little as researchers would do carrying out scientific investigations, and that's exactly what we're carrying out at this stage - a scientific excavation.

JOHNNY BLADES: So the excavation stage for this project is not really much about whether there's gold there and so forth, but whether it's going to be safe, environmentally viable.

TM: Again, we're taking baby steps, that's our philosophy. And it's equivalent to the precautionary approach, what we're doing. It's exploration, not mining. The benefits that could come from if we are successful could result from mining, which will be a few years down the track, and also the need for sub-sea minerals, which I think is... We will follow how oil and gas went from land into the sea about 70 years ago. I think that minerals will go the same way.

JB: It sounds like there's a lot of unknowns, including with the technology that might be used to mine down there.

TM: The facts are that we're learning as we go, and hence the baby-step, cautious approach that we're taking. We want to be open and transparent. It's a learning curve that everyone is on. By taking the baby-step approach we actually learn as we go. But I think we're fairly knowledgeable. I have over 25 years in deep sea minerals deposit knowledge with a PhD from the University of Toronto, having studied these hot springs on the sea bed for a PhD. And when I was at CSIRO I had seven years there just studying these deposits all the time.

JB: But there is this sense of these countries that are quite undeveloped in the Pacific whose communities don't necessarily get a say in matter.

TM: Sometimes their leaders are not always transparent in things, that these countries are being guinea pigs. And I think, again, that the approach that we're taking, we're exploring, not mining, at this stage. And there's a lot of mining that SOPAC - the South Pacific Geoscience Commission is rolling out at the moment, has done for the last year and a half or so. And they're developing and building the capability that is actually educating the people in the south-west Pacific. It's not just government people that go along to the workshops that they've been running. It's open to NGOs and all sorts of different people that have genuine interests and they're genuine stakeholders in this business.