Last update:

Deep sea mining project Solwara 1 in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea

The first deep-sea mining project at the international level was approved but failed before the extraction phase. The Solwara 1 project planned to mine mineral-rich hydrothermal vents in the Bismark Sea.


The Pacific is a region of immense deep-sea mining potential. In 2008 the Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals provided its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to Papua New Guinea Government to start deep-sea mining in the Bismarck Sea, in New Ireland Province, part of the Pacific Ocean, not far from Bougainville Island.  Nautilus hoped to become the world's first deep-sea mining firm. Since 1997, Nautilus has been exploring Papua New Guinea (PNG) waters and since 2016 It conducted explorer drilling in the Bismarck Sea.[1]

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Deep sea mining project Solwara 1 in the Bismarck Sea, Papua New Guinea
Country:Papua New Guinea
State or province:New Ireland
Location of conflict:Bismarck Sea
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Silver
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Hydrothermal vents are like hot springs, spewing jets of watery fluids from the seafloor into the ocean. The expelled fluid, if hot enough, is rich in dissolved metals and other chemicals. This makes unusual forms of life possible without sunlight (chemosynthesis, instead of photosynthesis). [22]. This apart, the dissolved metals are attractive for industry. The island of Tonga and other Pacific islands are involved in plans for deep-sea mining.

See more
Project area:11
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,000,000.00
Start of the conflict:10/11/2008
Company names or state enterprises:Nautilus Minerals Inc from Canada
Relevant government actors:The Government of PNG had a legal right to acquire up to 30% equity in the project. The PNG government turned to its national bank for a loan of USD 125 million to fulfill this obligation via a state-owned enterprise and without parliamentary approval. When the loan is called in, the PNG cost was equivalent to one-third of the country's entire health budget for 9 million people in 2018. [21]
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Deep Sea Mining Campaign (DSMC) is an association of NGOs and citizens from the Pacific Islands, Australia, Canada, and USA concerned about the likely impacts of DSM on marine and coastal ecosystems and communities.The DSM campaign is a Project of The Ocean Foundation, supported by Mining Watch Canada, a Partner of Mission Blue/Sylvia Earle Alliance and a Member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. The Deep Sea Mining campaign started in late 2011 in response to the frenzy of sea-bed exploration in the South Pacific.

Alliance of Solwara Worriors is a group of over 20 communities in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas, formed after many years of campaigns against the Seabed mining areas. They produce petitions and calls to the Government.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsDestroy deep-sea habitats; Biodiversity loss (loss of ecosystem structure and function in deep-sea ecosystems); Species such as whales, tuna and sharks could be affected by noise, vibrations and light pollution caused by mining equipment and surface vessels, as well as potential leaks and spills of fuel and toxic products.
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Moratoria
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:In 2019 PNG citizens call for a full ban on sea-bed mining. Because of the growing pressure from deep-sea mining companies (French, Canadian, US, and Chinese), in 2019, Fiji president (Frank Bainimarama) and Vanuatu Prime Minister proposed a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining to allow proper scientific research on Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and territorial waters. In September 2019, Papua New Guinea joined Fiji and Vanuatu.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The environmental, social and economic risks of seabed mining necessitate a complete ban, not a temporary stop as the moratorium imposes.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] China Dialogue Ocean, "Podcast: The damaging failure of sea-bed mining in Papua New Guinea"; 2019.

[14] Papua New Guinea Mining Watch; "Solwara 1"; 2020
[click to view]

[6] Deep Sea Mining; "Out of our depth"; 2011.
[click to view]

[12] China Dialogue Ocean, "Podcast: The damaging failure of sea-bed mining in Papua New Guinea"; 2019.

[7]Deep Sea Mining Campaign; "Letter to Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea"; 2011
[click to view]

[11] Business and Human Rights, "Fiji: Prime Minister calls for 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining to allow proper scientific research"; 2019

[8] Australian Mining; "Locals launch legal action against PNG Gov’t over Nautilus deep sea project"; 2017
[click to view]

[19] Fauna and Flora Internationa, " An Assessment of the Risks and Impacts of Seabed Mining on

Marine Ecosystems"; 2020
[click to view]

[2] Solwara Mining
[click to view]

[4] Colin Filer et al., "How could Nautilus Minerals get a social licence to operate the world's first deep sea mine?"; 2016
[click to view]

[10] DSM Campaign; "Letter to Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea"; 2012
[click to view]

[3] Deep Sea Mining Campaign, Earthworks, Mining Watch Canada, Oasis Earth, Mineral Policy Institute. Submission to the International Seabed Authority on the Report to ISA members and stakeholders: Developing a Regulatory Framework for Mineral Exploitation in the Area, 2015.

[9] DSM Campaign; "Legal action launched over Nautilus-Solwara 1";2017
[click to view]

[13] DSM Campaign, "Moratorium on DSM welcomed but more courage required of PM Marape"; 2019
[click to view]

[15] Solwara Mining
[click to view]

[17] DSM Campaign; " Accountability Zero"
[click to view]

[16] Nautilus Minerals, 2008, 2016b

[18] DSM Campaign; "Out of our Depth"; 2011
[click to view]

[20] Mining Watch Canada | Deep Sea Mining Campaign | London Mining Network, Why the Rush?, 2019

[21] Mining Watch Canada | Deep Sea Mining Campaign | London Mining Network, Why the Rush?, 2019

[1] The Guardian, "Collapse of PNG deep-sea mining venture sparks calls for moratorium"; 2019.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[22] Hydrothermal Vents, a scientific description
[click to view]

[22] Hydrothermal Vents, a scientific description
[click to view]

[22] Hydrothermal Vents, a scientific description
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The Last Frontier (documentary)
[click to view]

Documentary on Alliance of Solwara Warriors
[click to view]

Short documentary
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Laura Grassi
Last update27/06/2020
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.