Environment minister says aragonite mining is not sustainable
Minister of the Environment Romauld Ferreira said The Bahamas must be cautious in regards to the mining of aragonite, given the scientific data that shows it is not “sustainable in human lifetimes”.
Many Bahamians have long called on the government to rely on the country’s “natural resources” by allowing the mining of aragonite – a naturally occurring mineral which is commonly used in cement and steel production.
Ferreira said while there is no denying The Bahamas’ vast resources of aragonite, the science shows it takes too long a time to develop naturally for it to be mined on a large scale.
“I would like to bring clarity to an issue that arises in this honorable house from time to time. That is the issue of aragonite. Aragonite or Ooid sand is one of two types of sand found in The Bahamas. Regular sand or biogenic sand is formed from skeletal debris of animals and plants. Aragonite precipitates out of the water cascading to the ocean floor like rain, the deposits are huge. An assessment of aragonite resources in The Bahamas revealed a number of critical scientific truths that must be understood,” he said during his contribution to the 2020/2021 budget debate.
“It is estimated that 12,266 – 23,354 million metric tons of aragonite exist in The Bahamas. Studies show that depending on the location the grain of aragonite is of a different size. This happens because each grain of aragonite has an inner nuclear grain which gets coated with calcium carbonate. The more it gets coated the heavier it becomes, eventually falling to the seafloor. Scientific studies indicate that each grain of aragonite produced takes hundreds to thousands of years to form.
“For example, aragonite from Cat Cay, Berry Island, Tongue of the Ocean and Eleuthera take 160 years. Aragonite from Lilly Bank takes 296 years to form, that from the Bight of Acklins 740 years.”
Ferreira pointed to the mining that occurred at Ocean Cay for 40 years.
“This suggests even though the resources are vast, aragonite is not produced continuously but goes through stages of growth and rest. the most important point is mining aragonite is not sustainable over human lifetimes because it takes so very long for mined areas to recover,” he said.
“Any potential mining area, once stripped of aragonite will take hundreds if not thousands of years to recover. Ocean Cay where mining occurred for 40 years, shows no sign of recovery.”
In 2018, the Ministry of the Environment commissioned a study into the economic value of and quantity of aragonite deposits in The Bahamas.
This came after various community activists insisted the Bahamian people were losing out, as the lease provides for a royalty to the government of $2 per metric ton. They alleged that aragonite sells on the open market for $900 per metric ton. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said during his budget communication last month that the government is looking at new measures to raise new revenue, including the possibility of mining.
But Ferreira said the science speaks for itself on the issue of aragonite mining.
“The results are clear and we need to have a serious discussion about this and we need to bring some level of reason to the whole debate, putting aside emotion and how we want it to be and accepting it for what it is. The resources are vast, nobody can deny that, they are abundant to our country, nobody can deny that but the data suggests, raw data, scientific data both by university and government commissioned study, suggests that aragonite doesn’t produce quickly enough,” he said.
“The most important point in relation to aragonite mining in The Bahamas and I’d like to go on the record for this, that based on scientific data available to us, based on all of the university studies that have been conducted in our country, based on the report produced by the Ministry of the Environment, the Commonwealth Secretariat, BAIC, the Ministry of Agriculture, because of the length of time it takes to make one grain of aragonite the mining of aragonite is not sustainable in human lifetimes. What does that mean? It means that I’m betting that nobody in this honorable chamber is going to live to see 160 years and I’m pretty sure you won’t live to see 1,090.”