An application to mine a fossil-rich site near Dunedin for animal food has been met with fierce criticism from environmental scientists, who say the site is like New Zealand’s version of Pompeii.
A majority-Malaysian company wants to create an open pit mine at the Foulden Maar site to collect diatomite – the fossilised remains of water-borne, single-cell algae called diatoms, which are full of silica deposits – and turn them into pig and cattle feed.
In June last year, scientists were assured they would continue to have access to the site in spite of the mine, but a report leaked to the Otago Daily Times has prompted fears that the applicant, Plaman Resources, intends to fully mine the maar.
Foulden Maar was formed 23 million years ago when a volcano erupted and formed a deep crater lake, Newsroom’s Farah Hancock wrote. The lake has since filled with the sediment from the microscopic diatomite plant and dried out, leaving behind a cache of fossils.
“From a scientific perspective we don’t yet know the importance of what it contains,” University of Otago geologist Daphne Lee said, who wants at least half the site to be preserved in perpetuity.
“If it’s completely destroyed now, in the future people are going to say it would be like destroying Pompeii, ‘Why did you do that?'”
Nic Rawlence, director of Otago University’s paleogenetics lab, told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan that the site was the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere that contained a record of the first major glaciation of Antarctica.
A petition has been started asking the Government to reject Plaman Resources Limited’s application, currently with the Overseas Investment Office, to purchase the neighbouring farm, which would improve the viability of the mining operation.
The issue has been covered widely by local media, including:
Otago Daily Times: Leaked report sheds light on mine project
Newsroom: Dunedin’s ‘Pompeii’ to be mined to make pig food
Newsroom: Who is the fossil mining company?
RNZ: Concern about mining in Foulden Maar
Otago Daily Times: Mine threat to fossil record
Newsroom: Opposition grows to fossil mining project
The Spinoff: The Bulletin: Quiet mining battle erupts into the headlines
RNZ: Otago community takes on major international mining company
Otago Daily Times: Clark joins opposition to Middlemarch mine proposal
Newsroom: Dunedin mayor demands facts from fossil-mining company