CS

Case Study

December 8
5 mins

The Alliance of Solwara Warriors’ resistance against deep sea mining in Papua New Guinea

John Childs
National
Papua New Guinea
shark calling boat
A shark caller’s boat. The coastline in New Ireland Province, PNG is home to one of the last surviving traditions of ‘shark calling’, in which people communicate with sharks through ritual and song before catching them by hand.
The Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) stands for resistance, resilience, education, and coalition building against deep sea mining (DSM). ASW brings together coastal communities from 6 provinces and various groups to address DSM threats, including concerns about cultural ties to the ocean, livelihood impacts, and potential environmental harm. ASW is committed to pursuing a permanent ban on deep sea mining in PNG.
Figure 1. A shark caller’s boat. The coastline in New Ireland Province, PNG is home to one of the last surviving traditions of ‘shark calling’, in which people communicate with sharks through ritual and song before catching them by hand. Photo credit: John Childs.

The formation and actions of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (ASW) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are a story of resistance, resilience, education and coalition building in the face of attempts to begin deep sea mining (DSM) in the region. Since 2009, ASW has been campaigning at both local and national scales to call for a ban on DSM in PNG and across the Pacific. This network of ocean defenders connects coastal communities in 6 different provinces across PNG, including New Ireland Province, East New Britain, Madang, and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. It has become a vibrant and dynamic movement comprised of national and local non-government organizations, community-based organizations, academics, and religious groups.

DSM presents a grave threat to both the culture and livelihoods of communities across Melanesia and Polynesia, and ASW has united with other leading groups in the region who have together called for an end to all deep sea mining in the Pacific (FOE 2019). Key concerns and issues relate to a severing of spiritual connections to the ocean, and questions around the potential effects of noise and chemical pollution from DSM activity on the marine environment and life (Childs 2020; Childs 2022). More locally, along the coastline of New Ireland Province, PNG, there is great unease and resistance to the impact on traditional practices such as ‘shark calling’. This area is home to one of the last surviving traditions of ‘shark calling’, in which people communicate with sharks through ritual and song before catching them by hand. DSM is perceived to be an existential threat to its continuation.

Historically, the catalyst for action was the allocation of an operating license to commercially mine the deep seabed for the first time globally. The so-called ‘Solwara 1’ project (Solwara means ‘ocean’ – literally ‘sea water’ in Tok Pisin) was granted to Canadian firm Nautilus Minerals by the PNG government in 2011. A key aspect of this decision was a theme well understood by those facing social and environmental justice worldwide – the lack of free, prior, and informed consent including inadequate information about the project and its aims. As a direct result, ASW initiated and has maintained a national campaign of education, advocacy, and outreach work which has helped to build both local and national community and public understanding of the issues facing DSM. This work has been going on for over a decade and is set to continue.

ASW has achieved much during its ongoing struggles against the advent of DSM in the region. Most notably, in 2019 Nautilus Minerals faced bankruptcy and eventual liquidation through a combination of sustained community opposition and financial unsustainability brought on by the withdrawal of key investors from the firm (Stutt 2019). This marked a significant victory for ASW at the time, yet it was not without cost and did not mark the end of the struggle. For one thing, the PNG government itself was reported to have lost more than AUD$150 million (Doherty 2019), money that for members of ASW should have been invested in the country’s underfunded healthcare and education systems. 

Figure 2. The Duke of York Islands, Papua New Guinea is one of the nearest communities to the proposed DSM site. Photo credit: John Childs.

Moreover, the ongoing threat of DSM activity in the region remains. A recent announcement in parliament has suggested that Nautilus Minerals is planning to return to PNG, having been remodeled as a subsidiary to a new company Deep Sea Mining Finance Ltd, and plans to eventually extract from the deep seabed remain in place (Post Courier 2023). In the face of this, and the associated marginalization of affected communities from the policy process, ASW’s resolve is clear: the fight is not over until all deep sea licenses are canceled in the Bismarck Sea and in geographies further afield. Politically, the aim is to insist that the PNG government enacts a permanent ban on DSM and uses this precedent to call for a moratorium on DSM at the International Seabed Authority (FOE 2019), the regulator of the deep seabed in the area outside of national jurisdiction.

It is unlikely that ASW will be able to do this alone. The network is made up of communities across PNG, many of whom depend on small-scale fishing for their livelihoods. In the face of state-corporate policy interactions that fail to involve such people in meaningful ways, a narrative that is already echoing around the Pacific region. As such, ASW is continuing to build its network across the region and internationally, across what Epeli Hau’ofa (1994) calls a ‘sea of islands’. They have already forged connections with partners from Fiji, Tonga, and Cook Islands, taking part in a People’s Summit for Climate Justice session at COP26 to argue that ‘deep sea mining is no answer to the climate crisis’ (Stopdeepseamining 2021). They stand as ocean defenders of the ‘Pacific Blue Line’ (2023), a Pacific regional effort calling for a ban on deep-sea mining.

Citation

Childs, J., (2023). The Alliance of Solwara Warriors’ resistance against deep sea mining in Papua New Guinea. N. Bennett & R. Lopez de la Lama (Eds.), The Ocean Defenders Project, https://oceandefendersproject.org

References

Doherty, B. (2019), ‘Collapse of PNG deep-sea mining venture sparks calls for moratorium’. Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/collapse-of-png-deep-sea-mining-venture-sparks-calls-for-moratorium

Childs, J. (2020a). Extraction in four dimensions: time, space, and the emerging geo(-)politics of deep-sea mining. Geopolitics, 25(1): 189-213. https://doi.org/10.1080/14650045.2018.1465041

Childs, J. (2022). Geographies of deep sea mining: A critical review. The Extractive Industries and Society, 9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exis.2022.101044

Friends of the Earth – Asia Pacific. (2019, July 2). ‘Joint letter calling for PNG government to cancel deep sea mining’. Available online at ‘https://foeasiapacific.org/2019/07/02/joint-letter-calling-for-png-government-to-cancel-deep-sea-mining-licences-and-to-ban-seabed-mining-in-png/

Hau‘ofa, E. (1994). Our sea of islands. The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs, 6: 148–161.

Nodeepseamining. (2021, Nov 15). ‘A Pacific Talanoa: deep sea mining is no answer to the climate crisis’. Available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OftX8Vd_JfQ.

Pacific Blue Line (2023). Statement available online at https://www.pacificblueline.org/

Post-Courier. (2023, August 4 ). ‘Nautilus Coming Back’. Available online at https://www.postcourier.com.pg/nautilus-coming-back/

Stutt, A.  (2019). ‘Nautilus Minerals officially sinks, shares still trading’, Available online at https://www.mining.com/nautilus-minerals-officially-sinks-shares-still-trading/

Categories

Coastal Erosion, Declines of Biodiversity, Degradation of Ecosystems, Degradation or reduced supply of Ecosystem Services, Disruption of Marine Foodwebs, Disruption of the Seabed, Fish Abundance and Productivity, Impacts on Species, Introduction of Invasive Species, Pollution and Contamination, Underwater noise , Indigenous Peoples, Small-scale fishers , Deep-sea exploration of minerals and resources , Awareness and communication campaigns, Social movements, Legal and policy interventions, Public protests and demonstrations , ,

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