Mine Plan Threatens Marine Park, Telegraph.co.uk, 05/06/06
By Tim Ecott
Waste from British-owned project could devastate award-winning site, say experts.
Environmental groups are campaigning to save an award-winning marine park on the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, from the potentially devastating effects of pollution.
The Bunaken National Marine Park, winner of a prestigious Tourism For Tomorrow Award in 2003, is threatened by plans to dispose of waste from a new gold-mining operation.
According to Angelique Bituna, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature site manager, ocean currents will drag any pollution from the proposed mine at Toka Tindung towards the reefs of nearby small islands. These include the marine park, which contains 400 species of coral - more than the Great Barrier Reef - and thousands of fish species, as well as several rare varieties of pygmy seahorses. She added that the park is now being considered for listing as a World Heritage Site.
The mine at Toka Tindung is also close to Tangkoko nature reserve, home to the Celebesian tarsier, the world's smallest primate.
The gold mine will be operated by Meares Soputan Mining (MSN), which Indonesian newspapers report is mostly owned by Archipelago Resources, a British company. Toka Tindung is thought to hold substantial gold reserves, and Indonesian environmentalists believe that they will be extracted using cyanide, which will form part of an estimated 4,000 tons of waste to be disposed of at sea.
Dino Vega, the chairman of North Sulawesi Chamber of Commerce, is asking the Indonesian government to intervene to prevent the mining project.
"I understand the necessity for business in the region," he said. "But this is a get-rich-quick scheme, and the environmental assessments for this mine are woefully inadequate. Even the provincial governor has stated publicly that he is opposed to the scheme. Unfortunately, the mining concession was granted under a former regime. We are hoping that we can alert the wider world to this environmental disaster in the making."
With an estimated 40 per cent of tropical reefs worldwide now dead or dying, the reefs around Sulawesi are regarded as a natural treasure.
A petition signed by more than 10,000 local people in North Sulawesi has been presented to the government in Jakarta, claiming that thousands of local fishermen will suffer if the mining goes ahead. At present, 22 local communities are supported solely by marine park entrance fees collected from divers and snorkellers.
Local residents in North Sulawesi are also fearful that heavy metals will pollute the ground water near the mine, bringing further danger to fish, on which 60 per cent of the population depends for its livelihood.
Contacted by Telegraph Travel, the managing director of Archipelago, Colin Lucemore, said that the mine would operate to internationally recognised environmental standards, even exceeding stringent guidelines set by Australia's national parks.
"We are complying fully with local regulatory practices," he said. "And believe that the mining is sufficiently far removed from the marine park that there will be no environmental damage.
"Our mine tailings will be in the form of finely ground rock, which will be deposited in a submarine trench on the other side of Sulawesi, between 1,000 and 2,000 metres deep, where they will sink."