Deep Sea Mining – Out of Our Depth Report

A new report – Out of Our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua New Guinea has been produced and supported by the following people and organisations: November 2011
Author: Helen Rosenbaum (PhD) it is available here:

Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals Inc. (Nautilus) is set to embark on the unprecedented extraction of metals from the sea floor. The mining project, known as the Solwara 1 project, will extract gold and copper from the floor of the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea. It is the first of a potentially large number of deep sea mining projects within the Pacific Region, including others in the Solwara area. Nautilus is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, has regional operational offices in Brisbane, Australia and representation in Port Moresby, PNG and Nuku’alofa, Tonga. The company’s main geographic focus is the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of Papua New Guinea. Nautilus has been exploring the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea since 1997. It has been granted more than 158,000 km2 of tenements and a further 366,000
km2 are under application in the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones of Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Zealand. If granted, these will enable Nautilus to explore a total area of 524,000 km2 . With over 250 deep sea massive sulphide deposits identified worldwide, mining companies are waiting to see how
Nautilus fares before taking the plunge themselves. The focus of deep sea mining is the deposits laid down over thousands of years around underwater hot springs, or hydrothermal vents. Known as Seafloor Massive Sulphides, these deposits occur at depths of 1-2 kilometres and can range in mass from several thousand to 100 million tonnes.

Hydrothermal vents occur in volcanically and tectonically active areas – along ridge lines or associated with island arcs or with seamounts. The ecosystems at hydrothermal vents are produced by the rare combination of superheated highly mineralised vent fluids, cold seawater and microbes capable of using chemicals as an energy source and a basis for making organic nutrients. As a result, vent ecosystems are rich in carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, organic carbon compounds, methane, hydrogen and ammonium. They provide habitat for thriving communities of organisms. In recent years, they have been found to host over 500 species previously unknown to science. There is evidence to suggest that deep sea hydrothermal vents may be where life first evolved on earth. Vent fauna are highly endemic (not found elsewhere) because of the special adaptations required to live in an environment associated with high temperatures, extreme pressures and the presence of toxic chemicals.

Read the report here.