Who are Marine Minerals Ltd?
Marine Minerals is a Cornish company created to investigate whether it is possible, in an environmentally, socially and economically viable way, to recover tin from the marine environment. We are currently investigating possible options off the North Cornwall coast: the tin here is from material deposited in sand on the seabed as a result of Cornwall’s historic tin mining past.
Why recover the tin?
Because of increased global demand, tin is a valuable resource, with applications in many hi-tech industries. Recovering the tin will bring valuable investment into Cornwall and well paid skilled, non-seasonal jobs which Cornwall desperately needs. We are on record as saying that the project can only proceed if the tin can be recovered in a way that is environmentally, socially as well as commercially viable.
How will you recover the tin?
We have rejected techniques such as traditional dredging, as being environmentally unacceptable. We are investigating and developing new, precise technologies that can recover tin in a way that will cause minimal disturbance to wildlife and the seabed. One solution being investigated is to filter the sand at sea, with only the portion containing tin being retained. This small proportion – we anticipate 5% of the total sand filtered - would be taken ashore, while the remaining 95% would be immediately replaced back in the seabed where it came from.
What will happen to the tin bearing sand?
We are currently investigating and considering options for how and where the tin bearing sand can be brought ashore and processed: currently Hayle, Fowey or Falmouth are possible – whichever is the preferred option will be the subject of a year long land-based Environmental Impact Assessment.
Why is the project important for Cornwall?
If this project - to recover tin in an environmentally and socially practical way - goes ahead, it would bring significant numbers of jobs and investment to Cornwall, both at sea and on land. In addition to this, Cornwall will have developed innovative marine mining techniques with potential global application. The new techniques could be taken to other parts of the world where marine mining takes place, and used to establish far less intrusive and destructive methods than are currently employed. This would further enhance Cornwall’s position as a global hub of mining expertise.
How much sand is going to be removed from the seabed? Will we lose sand from our beaches?
The expected sand volume figures are in the public Scoping Report and have been discussed with MMO, Natural England, The Hayle Harbour Trust and others. We anticipate an average of around 8,000 tonnes of tin-bearing sand a month will be brought ashore. To put this in context, at a rough estimate there is something like a billion tonnes of loose, or “dynamic” sand in total in the area we are aiming to recover the tin from. Work to date suggests that the impact of our sifting and partial sand removal is dwarfed by natural processes, such as tides, currents and storms, that move the dynamic sand on this stretch of the North Cornwall Coast throughout the year. That all said, this topic will quite rightly be a key part of the EIA.
What sea life lives on the seabed you will be removing? What sea life depends on the creatures living in the material you will be removing?
Early indications are that the tin is deposited in so-called “dynamic” sand which moves with sea currents, tides and storms. It is not a stable ecosystem, and therefore disturbing it seems unlikely to have any major effect on seabed ecology. This is an important element which our year-long Environmental Assessment is studying, the results of which will be made public.
Will you be disturbing any toxic material that may be in the sand on the seabed?
We firmly believe the answer is no, but this is a topic our Environmental Impact Assessment will be investigating carefully. Because we will only be operating within loose, "dynamic" sand, our studies suggest that our activity won't result in the release of any materials that wouldn't normally be released due to natural forces. What we do know is that the tin is in the form of very small deposits of metal ore firmly attached to individual grains of sand. It does not and cannot enter the food chain.
Will your activity make the water dirty? Will the operation throw up clouds of material into the water?
The operation will be very localised and use new, precise technology which will filter the sand at sea and replace all non tin-bearing sand immediately: there will be nothing like the “dumping” of material typical in traditional dredging, for example. The sand is relatively large-grain (at least 60 microns) so any grains that are thrown up into the water during the sifting and replacement process will quickly fall back to the seabed within a few metres. We anticipate this causing minimal disturbance to wildlife, the seabed and water quality.
Will your activity result in the return of the 'Red River' and plumes of dirty water?
Absolutely not. The Red River plume was the result of out-dated, decades-old mining processes when haematite (iron oxide or rust) particles of less than 1 micron in size were discharged with the mine-waters and tailings into the river and, being ultra fine, floated in the water. That process is long-gone: the Marine Minerals on-land process will be completely different. The sand taken ashore will be treated to recover the tin and residues from this process will NOT re-enter the sea. The majority of water used in the proposed Marine Minerals milling process will be recycled within the plant itself. Any discharges made to water courses will be regulated, safe and non-polluting. They will be subject to strict discharge consent licencing by the Environmental Agency and subject to continuous compliance monitoring. This will be examined during the EIA.
Will your project have an impact on surf breaks or beaches?
We don't believe so, given the relatively very small amount of sand we will be removing, and given the effects on this coast of natural forces such as tides, currents and storm waves (3 metres and higher for more than 10% of the year). We’re on the record as supporting Surfers Against Sewages campaign to recognise and protect surf breaks, and this is a very important issue and we will be studying it in detail in our Environmental Impact Assessment.
Will the project affect people surfing/using the sea?
We will only ever have one ship, operating in one location at any time. The ship will always, even at low tide, be based well beyond any breaking waves, and in very rough weather with large swells will not be able to operate. There will be some visual impact – in other words, people on the immediate coast where it is operating will be able to see it – and potentially there will be some noise: how much is one of the matters we want to assess carefully in our EIA. Apart from this, the general activities of the public will not be directly impacted by our work, other than the need for a safety exclusion zone, for boats and other craft around the immediate area we will be operating in.
How close to shore will the recovery vessel be operating?
Most of the time, the vessel will be stationary more than a kilometre from shore. At all times the vessel will be working in about 10-20 metres of water or more. We have already stated that we will work no closer to shore than 200m out to sea from the lowest low water mark (“chart datum” as it is technically known).
Is the proposed project “dredging”?
No, we don’t think most people would describe what we are planning to do as dredging, and it is certainly not traditional dredging i.e. digging out material, leaving a large scar on the seabed and carrying away the material to land, or dumping it elsewhere on the seabed. We’ve been absolutely clear that, for environmental and practical reasons, traditional dredging is not an option in carrying out the project. Our method will not, unlike traditional dredging, extend over vast areas of the seabed in a short time because we will be simultaneously backfilling as we draw up the sand, while filtering out the tin onboard. We will return almost all of the sand back to where it came from.
Could the scheme be “devastating to the environment” as some claim it might be?
No. We are a Cornish company, based in Falmouth, and committed to high levels of environmental performance. We’d never propose such a scheme and, fairly obviously, it would never be approved.
HAVE YOUR SAY
When will public consultation take place?
We are already talking to regulatory bodies, such as MMO, Cornwall Council and Natural England as well as local groups such as Cornwall Seal Group, Surfers Against Sewage, Save our Sands and the Hayle Harbour Board which includes representatives of several local groups. There will be plenty of opportunity for the public to review our detailed finalised plans, and make their views known within formal public consultation when we apply for a project licence: given the need to complete our EIA, that will be at the end of 2013 at the earliest. Before that, we are also planning extensive public consultation of our own with groups and communities along the coast, once the EIA is underway.