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Morobeans resist mining waste ocean dump

“The legacy we want to leave our children is simple. We want them to be able to live in an environment that is clean, healthy and safe. We do not want an ocean full of toxic waste” - Reverend Yasam Aiwara


| Say No to Wafi-Golpu

LAE - A coalition of Papua New Guinean and Australian civil society organisations has launched an international campaign to stop plans to dump hundreds of millions of tonnes of mining waste into Huon Gulf.

The Say No to Wafi-Golpu DSTP group is fighting to protect the ocean, marine ecosystems and coastal communities of Huon Gulf from becoming a dumping ground for the Wafi-Golpu copper and gold mine, one of the largest in the world, operated by Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold.

The campaign involves Jubilee Australia, the Mineral Policy Institute, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG and the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights.

“The Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture’s proposal of deep sea tailings placement is very concerning,” said Peter Bosip, executive director of the Centre for Environmental Law:

“Newcrest and Harmony Gold want to dump hundreds of millions of tonnes of mining waste into the ocean that thousands of people depend on.

“In order to do so, they are planning a pipeline to run directly through Lae, our nation’s second largest city.

“Further, that pipeline will cross a seismically active area, before dumping mining waste into the sea.”

The mining waste will include arsenic, lead, mercury, manganese and other heavy metals.

Communities across the Huon Gulf oppose deep sea dumping of tailings and are fiercely resisting the plans by organising protests around the Morobe Province.

The 5 vertical zones of the water column
The 5 vertical zones of the water column

The Wafi Golpu Joint Venture’s environmental impact statement expects that 40% of the tailings, 144 million tonnes, will not reach the ocean floor and end up in the Huon Gulf water column, the vertical expanse of water between the ocean surface and floor.

But Professor Ralph Mana, who independently reviewed the impact statement, has stated the companies’ estimates could be wildly inaccurate.

He said more than 320 million tonnes of mining waste could be suspended in the water, more than twice the companies’ estimate.

He also said the mining waste could sweep 30km in all directions in the ocean – dramatically different from estimates given by the joint venture.

“The sea is our life,” said environment advocate Jotham Israel Keleino. “It is our supermarket, it is our income, it is our identity and culture.

“With the sea, we feed our families, through the sea we make income to buy basic goods. We swim in it, we eat from it, we thrive in it. Take away the sea, and you take away our life.”

Reverend Yasam Aiwara, head of the Jabem District in the Evangelical Lutheran Church, stated:

“If this DSTP goes ahead, what will this look like in five years for people from Lae who are going swimming or fishing? What impacts will this have on future generations yet to be born?”

“We don’t want our children and grandchildren to be left with a dead sea. We don’t want toxic chemicals and heavy metals to make them sick, and unable to make an income.

“We are standing firm, we do not want to leave this legacy for the next generation.”


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Arthur Williams

Extracts from some media statements on DSTP may help:

1 2001 Blue Planet

Many of us must have enjoyed David Attenborough's 12 part series 'Blue Planet' on BBC In episode #2 he said:

"A descent to the very bottom of the ocean – some 4,000 metres – reveals life even at such cold temperatures, much of it new to science. It is dominated by echinoderms that sweep the sea bed; however, there are occasional large hunters, such as chimaera.

"In addition, sixgill sharks can grow up to eight metres in length and have remained unchanged for 150 million years. They are described as "living fossils" and relatively little is known about them.”

2 Study finds 198 new fish by Ancilla Wrakuale, The National, 2011/07/28

The 'BioPapua' expedition was made possible with the support of a scientific vessel, RV Avis, owned by the Institute de Recherché pour Le Dev (IRD) from France. Tuesday at a seminar attended by UPNG science students and academics. Mana said:

"We found more than 200 fish species, 99% of them were new species and discovered some fish with double-snouts and more than 300 species of crustacean. The ecosystem on the bottom of sea is highly supported with well established food chains among organisms.”

I have noted from aerial pics that the Lihir DSTP system will show what look like plumes of discoloured surface water in its dumping ground.

During my time working on the island my Papuan friend, the District's officer-in-charge, really enjoyed his shell fish meals.

Before I left at the end of 1999 he and everyone on the island had been warned not to eat any of the shellfish from the Kapit Bay which then was still untouched by mining. Now the village including its environs is the latest area being mined.

3 James Cameron dives New Britain trench (2012)

Eleven years later there was a furore of DSTP being allowed to Ramu Cobalt & Nickel mine, with its over a billion pounds of nickel and cobalt reserves being mined for 40 years.

At that time I also read that the famous Hollywood director James Cameron was in PNG waters testing his deep ocean submersible Challenger down to 5000ft in the New Britain Trench.

He must have seen the pro-DSTP lobby decrying their opponents' claims that Ramu's filthy discharge of tailing would destroy marine life.

I cannot recall which media reported him as saying the mining lobbyist were liars and told of what he had eyewitnessed in his own deep diving experiences.

4 Out of sight, out of mind: Marine mine waste disposal in PNG (2015/08/22)

Known impacts of DSTP in PNG

A recently published, open access study, Ecological impacts of large-scale disposal of mining waste in the deep sea, by David Hughes and colleagues, looked at the effects of DSTP from both Lihir and the former Misima Mine giving us some insight into what actually happens on the ocean floor.

The study found that the effects of DSTP at both Lihir and Misima are readily detectable on the seabed.

At Lihir, the operating mine, effects are detectable up to 20 km east of the discharge point and to at least 2000 m water depth.

DSTP was considered responsible for greatly reduced abundances and changes in higher-taxon composition of the sediment fauna.

The impact on benthic fauna such as metazoan meiofauna and calcareous forams declines with distance from the tailings outfall, but is still significant down to 1700 m.

In addition, macrofauna and organic-walled forams (single celled organisms with a calcium or organic shell) are severely impacted to at least 2000 m

5 'Wafi-Golpu (mine in Morobe) nears start with its ocean disposal of tailings case now withdrawn by newly elected Governor Wenge' by Gloria Bauai, The National (2022/08/07)

Morobe, under new governor Luther Wenge, has agreed to move ahead with the US$5.4 billion (K18.5 billion) gold-copper Wafi-Golpu project, withdrawing the court cases it filed against the joint venture (instigated by the previous Governor Ginson Saonu).

Wenge said, “The province was ready to sign the mining lease agreement to accept the mine, and the deep sea tailing placement (DSTP) method of mine waste disposal.

6 Report in The National (2022/09/01)

PNG's International Trade & Foreign Investment Minister Richard Maru wants Ramu to start paying corporate taxes after having been given a ten year tax holiday by PM Somare to get the Chinese mining giant digging in PNG.

7 The National (2022/10/28)

Morobe Governor Wenge, who was governor from 1997 to 2012, said, “The Morobe provincial Govt. will charge K21 for every tonne of waste discharged into the Huon Gulf (aka sewer)!'

Finally, an idea about DSTP hit me this week when reading that its is over two moths since the Mutzing 7.6 earthquake in Morobe. Readers may have seen that the several undersea communication cables that were broken then are slowly being repaired but hopefully all should be back to normal by the start of December.

My thought was if an earthquake in this very seismic area of New Guinea mainland can rip apart cables what would it do to metal cased slurry or tailings pipes?

Chris Overland

These types of proposals are why we are collectively doomed to disaster.

There is no chance this side of hell that international capitalism will stop despoiling the planet as long as there is money to be made.

The current COP26 has all the usual suspects making all the usual promises. These promises are worthless because the actions required to actually make any real difference to the current trajectory towards catastrophic climate change would necessarily curtail the ability of international capital to make money.

Consider the scale of the problem just as it relates to international shipping.

At any given moment, there are thought to be 50,000 vessels plying our oceans. The largest of these vessels burn around 9,000 litres of oil per hour, the smaller vessels perhaps only 3,000 litres per hour. The total amount of oil burned per hour varies from low estimate of 300,000,000 litres to as much as 450,000,000 litres.

Ironically perhaps, it is only nuclear-powered vessels, which are invariably warships, that are not spewing CO2 into the atmosphere at an astounding rate.

Consider also international air travel. There are around 9,000 aircraft in the sky at any given moment. The hourly burn rate for jet fuel is therefore simply enormous.

An A380 flying from Singapore to London burns up to 100 tons of fuel in doing so, while the much more efficient Boeing 787 'Dream Liner' is burning only about 80 tons on the same flight.

As for the pollution from coal and gas fired power stations, it dwarfs even the outputs from ships and aircraft.

There is no way that we can reverse climate change in any meaningful way with solar panels, windmills, electric cars, improved insulation and the odd nuclear power station.

Those who rule us know this is true, so they engage in what amounts to an elaborate Noh play, where gestures and deliberately formalised utterances are a substitute for meaningful action.

The truth is that only if we abandon the current economic system where rampant consumerism and unbridled greed are normalised will we have any hope of avoiding the predicted catastrophe.

The idea of simply dumping mining waste in the ocean fits right in with this ethos whereby the pursuit of wealth trumps any and all other considerations, even including the health or very survival of those deemed to be standing in the path of 'progress'.

Civilisations of the past have fallen at least in part because they exploited available resources in an unsustainable way. Previously, this has occurred on only a local or regional scale.

It is only now that we have created a civilisation capable of destroying the environment on a global scale and that is exactly what is happening.

The warning bells from history are clanging loudly but we are not listening. There will be a price to be paid for this deliberate deafness and I am very afraid that it will be fearfully worse than anyone today can understand.

We cannot say we have not been warned.

Stephen Charteris

I believe this needs to be put to the 'pub test'.

Question to all Australian shareholders: The tailings waste dumping plan will be approved provided you and all Australians now eat fish caught in the waters within the dump zone. The Lihir mine can also remain open on the same basis.


Paul Oates

Why is it we have heard this all before? The obvious action would first be to evaluate where this type of scheme has been imposed on the environment and extrapolate the known results, e.g., broken effluent pipes etc.

I can remember a PNG Minister at the time of the similar Madang pipeline proposal saying something about "Who cares if a few worms at the bottom of the sea are poisoned?"

Presumably, those who are proposing this venture don't intend to eat the seafood and all those fish and animals that are part of the world food chain and have nowhere else to go. Likewise the local people who depend on the sea for their food.

I wonder where the food (and 'sustenance') of those who are promoting this scheme actually comes from?

Bernard Corden

Here are some links to previous PNG Attitude articles on this topic:

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