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Marine Pollution – Deep Mesa Mining and its Environmental Impacts

Marine Pollution – Deep Mesa Mining and its Environmental Impacts

By Mr. Surodeep Kumar Bhowmick (Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata)

Causes of Marine Pollution

i) Direct Discharge, ii) Land Runoff, iii) Ship Pollution, iv) Atmospheric Pollution, v) Deep sea mining

Deep Sea Mining

The topic of deep sea mining was first brought up by the publication of J. L. Mero’s Mineral Resources of the Sea. The book claimed that there are nearly limitless supplies of cobalt, nickel, manganese nodules and other metallic deposits and crusts in the oceans. From the 1960s to 1984 an estimated US $650 million had been spent on the venture by several nations including France, Germany and the United States, with little to no return. But over the past few decades, deep sea mining has acquired a whole new dimension. Interest has shifted towards hydrothermal vents as the source of metals instead of scattered nodules.

Solwara 1 Project

Using existing technologies, Nautilus Minerals Inc. is currently developing the best potential deep-sea site, the high grade Solwara 1 Project; a copper-gold project in Papua New Guinea. The site is located 30km off the coast of New Ireland Province and at 1600m water depth in the Bismarck Sea.

Environmental Impacts Of The Solwara 1 Project

This deep sea mining was defined as a Level 3 activity under Papua New Guinea Environment Act 2000 requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be submitted. Scientists only first discovered these deep-sea hydrothermal vents and their exotic chemosynthetic ecosystems in 1976 and these extraordinary ecosystems remain poorly understood even today. Deep-sea hydrothermal vents, found along mid ocean ridges and back-arc basins, support one of the rarest and most unique ecological communities known to science. Organisms derive their energy from sulphide chemicals in hot, mineralized vent fluids rather than directly or indirectly from photosynthesis as in other biological communities and/or from endosymbionts in their tissues. Most species discovered at vents are new to science and the vents support communities with “extremely high biomass” relative to other deep sea habitats. The proposed Solwara 1 Project would destroy an extensive patch of productive vent habitat, including tens of thousands of vent chimneys, killing virtually all of attached organisms and it may be many years before development of chimney returns to pre-mining conditions. The deep-sea benthic as well as the deep sea pelagic communities will be affected by this project.

Environmental Impacts Of Deep Sea Mining

The other environmental impacts of deep sea mining include increased toxicity of water column and sediment plumes from tailings. The floating particles increase the turbidity or cloudiness of the water, clogging filter feeding apparatuses used by benthic organisms. The surface plumes could impact zooplankton and light penetration, in turn affecting the food web of the area.

Types of Marine Pollution

i) Acidification ii) Eutrophication iii) Plastic debris iv)Toxins v) Underwater Noise

Various National Acts And International Directives

Various national acts and control bodies have been set up to control and mitigate Marine pollution:

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  • Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
  • State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs)
  • Pollution Control Commitees (PCCs)

International Directives To Control Marine Pollution

  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive- The aim of the European Union’s (EU) ambitious Marine Strategy Framework Directive (adopted in June 2008) is to protect more effectively the marine environment across Europe. It aims to achieve good environmental status of the EU’s marine waters by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine related economic and social activities depend.
  • Water Framework Directive- The Water Framework Directive made by the European Parliament and Council is a EU directive which commits EU member states to achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of all ground and surface waters (including marine water upto 1 nautical mile from shore). An important aspect of Water Framework Directive is that the river basin areas have been designated not according to administrative or political boundaries, but rather according to the spatial catchment area of the river as a natural geographical and hydrological unit.