22 Jul 2013

Solomons' Temotu people call for more consultations over sea bed mining

5:31 pm on 22 July 2013

People in Temotu province in Solomon Islands are calling for more consultations before undersea mining goes ahead in their region.

Australia-based company Bluewater Metals was granted an exploration licence last year to search for gold in 12 sites near Temotu. If successful, Bluewater is promising to upgrade the hospital in the Temotu provincial capital Latta and assist with an upgrade of the provincial airport to international standard.

Annell Husband has more:

Greenpeace is warning that the world is poised for a new kind of gold rush - one that will take place in the ocean. A recent report by the environmental lobby group found the potential impact of deep sea mining is not properly understood. It goes on to suggest that sediment waste and pollution from the discharge of toxic heavy metals could devastate hotspots of biodiversity and endanger deep sea organisms. The Solomon Islands government is the latest in a string of governments in the Pacific, which is believed to be rich in undersea minerals and rare metals, to be courted by an international mining company keen to capitalise on what lies beneath. Bluewater Metals last week outlined its plans to community leaders and government officials in Temotu province, a collection of islands at the far southern end of the archipelago. The company's founders, Timothy McConachy and Harvey Cook, emphasised that finding out whether what is under the sea can balance the apparent deficit in terrestrial mineral supplies cannot be left too long or to chance. They say their company takes a precautionary approach, using safe, environmentally friendly technology. The premier of Temotu province, Father Charles Brown Beu, says if seabed mining in his region turns out to be enviromentally unsafe the onus will be on the national government to put a stop to it.

"CHARLES BROWN BEU: At this point in time all I can say is that perhaps we give it a try and if it doesn't work then perhaps it would be an area where maybe in the future we wouldn't allow it in any other places in Solomon Islands. We try and take that risk."

But our correspondent in Temotu province, George West, says local people are very unhappy that the national government is allowing undersea mining to go ahead.

GEORGE WEST: The communities want more consultations and even in the long run maybe they are going to demand some - something for what they think their share of the natural resources is in their seas or bordering their seas.

George West says people are worried that something could go wrong. But Father Beu says until he receives proof that seabed mining is environmentally unsafe he will not stand in the way of it taking place in the region. He says so far there is no evidence to show that undersea mining will have any impact on either fish or the marine environment.

GEORGE WEST: If the people are made aware of these things in no uncertain terms most definitely people will welcome this. It's only because they still do not understand and it's not easy to understand these things - it is the first time ever in Solomon Islands.

The director general of the Pacific's technical advisory body, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, says island governments should be using its legislative guide on deep sea mining before granting licences. Jimmie Rodgers says one of the areas the document covers is who should benefit and how the benefits should be shared.

JIMMIE ROGERS: Because normally you'd have the company gets the most of it, then government gets a portion of it and how much of what government gets goes to resource owners. I think it's very important that those things are clarified way up front.

Jimmie Rodgers says ill-informed countries risk mining companies taking advantage of them.