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Environmental management plan for seabed mining coming

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Environment Watch senior staff reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A framework to ensure the seabed environment is protected during mining operations is currently being developed and is expected to be ready in about three years.

The revelation was made by secretary general of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Nii Odunton, during an exclusive interview with Environment Watch last Friday.

A series of three workshops are planned over the next two years, in an effort to standardise data on fauna found in areas being explored by mining contractors so that they will be aware of the animals that may be affected when mining becomes a reality.

"Last year, the Council (of the ISA) worked on the environmental management plan for that area (where mining is planned). We believe that when this plan is in place we will have a basis for moving forward when mining occurs," Odunton said.

Currently there are 12 active exploration contracts with the entities operating beyond international jurisdictions mainly in the Pacific area, with applications for another five awaiting consideration this year.

Odunton explained that the ISA's Legal and Technical Commission has been asked to formulate guidelines on the environmental impact of seabed mining, with the input of a range of international scientists in the field.

With the field of deep ocean mining being relatively new, there is a need for more information about the living organisms that may be affected by mining.

"It has become apparent that we need to standardise the data. For example, a big concern is that when mining takes place there will be plumes of dust which will suffocate these animals and they might die. The data we acquire gives us an idea of how rare the fauna is," the secretary general explained.

Meanwhile, if all the mining rules can be worked out to the satisfaction of the ISA members, commercial mining of the international seabed could be a reality in six years.

"Hopefully, if a code is there and if they [mining entities] are aware of the payments they have to make to the Authority, and they see where they are going to get the requisite rate of return on their investment, we expect to see some applications. We have a company that has already informed us that they expect to be mining in six years," Odunton noted.

Commenting on the contribution to Jamaica of the ISA, which has its headquarters here in Kingston, the secretary general noted that 64 countries are represented at the ISA Assembly's 18th session currently underway at the Jamaica Conference Centre. He said this has considerable benefits for the hospitality, transport and other sectors.

Odunton also refuted the view that only developed nations can pursue seabed mining projects, as developing countries such as Nauru and Tonga have been awarded exploration contracts, while an application from the Republic of Kiribati, also in the Pacific, was being considered at this session.

He explained that the mining does not have to be done by the developing country itself, but a country may sponsor a company from elsewhere while maintaining control over the contract.

"You must have some national legislation in place so that if there are any problems in the future, environmental damage or so forth, that entity you have sponsored is responsible for it," Odonton noted.

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