Pacific countries are being urged to protect their deep sea mineral resources as commercial interest rapidly grows in the region. One company is planning to undertake the world's first deep sea mining project in Papua New Guinea and there's growing interest elsewhere.

Jonathan Lowe from Nautilus Minerals told ONE News their initial focus is on copper, gold, zinc and silver. However extracting it from 1-2 kilometres below sea level, has always been the issue - until now.

Commercial groups are currently starting to sign up exploration licences around the region and Pacific governments are being urged to protect themselves and negotiate the best deal with interested companies

"They are making heavy investments. They are going to push very hard to get as much of the proceeds as possible," said Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director of General South Pacific Community. "Governments need to be very clear on what it is they want to get out of this. They have to have definite milestones that are not negotiable."

The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) is running a project to help island nations set up systems to manage their deep sea mineral resources. Papua New Guinea's Government has been embroiled in disputes with Nautilus Minerals after it gave them a licence to mine off its coast.

The Government had agreed to pay around $75 million towards the project but after it signed a contract it decided it did not have enough information to invest. There is also concern over the environmental impact which Nautilus is adamant it's low.

"That area itself is a geologically dynamic environment; it will restore itself very quickly. The sea floor will recover in two years just from a small activity and there is no reason to think it won't be like that on a bigger scale," said Lowe.

However others aren't so sure and say more research is needed. "Look at PNG it's not even 10 to 15 years rushing the process. What's the rush? Papua New Guineans are not on life support." said Wenceslaus Magun from a local NGO.

Non-government organisations have been active in questioning the deals. "The currency for PNG is low despite the fact we have so many mining companies in the country. So what proof can you tell me that seabed mine will make a difference?"

But some Pacific Governments say deep sea mining is necessary. "We need to develop our economy so our people can benefit. Will the NGOs help our people? I say no they do nothing," said Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu.

Source: TVNZ - One News -