I always believed that Papua New Guinea (PNG) was one of the few places in the world today with its natural environment in tact and many people who have been to PNG will agree with me on this. Yet, in recent years,
our need for better livelihood has resulted in many decisions being made that in more ways than one will eventually lead to the destruction of PNG’s environment and all else that is associated with it.
For those who have been following my twitter feeds, you will know that I have just finished Acuostic Doppler Current Profiling (ADCP) of the Astrolobe Bay in Madang, PNG. Current profiling in the waters here range in depth from 200m to 1,200m and data generated will help support an application for another Deep Sea Tailings Pipeline (DSTP) in PNG. There is one already in place (yet to start disposing tailings) and there is one in operation in another mine in PNG and the main reason for this technique of tailings disposal stemmed from similar processes that were in place during the days of the Misima mine, another mine from PNG that ceased operations almost 10 years ago.
Now, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), under funding from the European Union were able to come up with a report in 2010 that the PNG government is banking all its decisions on in support of DSTP in
PNG and especially in the Astrolobe Bay. What the SAMS report is, is basically a review of all DSTP operations in other parts of the world and their pros and cons. It does not give much insight into DSTP operations in PNG and states very clearly that there was no environmentl monitoring at Misima so they could not refer to anything in that part, in other words, when misima was in operation, nobody cared about its impact on the environment, although they are using Misima as a model to back their report.
They report their findings on studies in other parts of PNG where DSTP was happening and it was clear that DSTP does impact the environment. Although the SAMS report was very broad, (all 295 pages of it) it did not present in detail the basics we wanted to know about the risks involved in dumping mine waste into the Astrolobe bay.
A decade earlier, the Evengelical Lutheran Church in PNG funded a similar study into the risks posed by the Ramu Nickel Project, the same project that is currently planning to dump 100 million tonnes of waste into the Astrolobe Bay. The Lutheran report, commissioned by the Mineral Policy Institute in Australia remains the best and most comprehensive report to date on the risks of DSTP in the Astrolobe bay. Since I started following
the matter, I am aware of two instances during which the Lutheran Church tried to present “their report” to the government of PNG but the government refused to accept it.
I was in the area where the DSTP pipeline will be draining into the sea and what made me feel so guilty about what we were doing was the sense of just how much the environment in the area will suffer as consequence of DSTP.
There are turtle nesting beaches in the area that will be lost as more and more maritime traffic comes into the area and when structures are built in the area to accomodate vessels that will be coming in. There are
fish spawning grounds for Baracutta, Mackeral and other reef fish that will be lost for the same reasons. The marlins and sail fish that we saw almost every day in the area will also be lost.
What can I do about all this? This is not going to be a win-win situation for all parties involved. At the end of the day, the PNG government gets its share of the minerals being harvested and the land owners get their
royalties while PNG loses its environment and ends up with more than one hundred million (100 000 000) tonnes of waste rock, slurry and chemicals at the bottom of the Astrolobe bay.