Earlier this year I blogged about the looming prospect of deep seabed mining and the efforts of ELAW’s partners in the Pacific Islands to protect vital ocean resources and coastal communities from the rush to mine the sea floor.  Environmental and community rights organizations have come together to inform citizens about the risks of deep seabed mining.  Advocates in Papua New Guinea (PNG), including ELAW partner Effrey Dademo, are at the front edge of this campaign because their government issued a license approving the first commercial seabed mining project in the region – Solwara I.

Advocates present seabed mining petition and legal opinion at the Pacific Islands Forum, August 2012. Image: Cook Islands News

The organizations brought their message to the Pacific Islands Forum, a meeting of regional political leaders held in late August in the Cook Islands.  Act Now!, the Pacific Network on Globalisation, and the Pacific Conference of Churches presented leaders with a petition signed by more than 8,000 people supporting a moratorium on seabed mining.  The petition was backed by a legal opinion urging leaders to employ a precautionary approach and defer decisions on seabed mining until the environmental impacts of this new technology are more clearly understood.

It seems the message is being heard.

Today, The National is reporting that PNG’s Minister for Environment and Conservation, John Pundari, is calling for public forums to discuss and debate the future of the Solwara I project.  Minister Pundari stated:

“I want these experts in oceanography, sedimentology, volcanologists, fisheries and marine ecology – including organisations such as universities, national research institutions, international and national NGOs, and other experts and leaders – to come together, present their cases, and debate the facts on aspects of the Solwara I project so we can all determine whether the government’s decision to approve the project was a good or bad decision.”

This is a remarkable turn of events because the PNG government, until now, has steadfastly refused to even acknowledge public opposition to seabed mining off the country’s coast.  Now there will be an opportunity for members of coastal communities and other ocean-dependent peoples to explain their views on seabed mining.  We look forward to these public forums!

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney