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SUVA, Fiji Islands (January 12, 2000 – Honolulu Advertiser)---Pacific Island nations have begun devising regulatory laws to help create a new industry in this near-resourceless region: mining the sea floor.

The nations hope to open up the seabed in their vast territorial waters to mineral explorations, Helena McLeod, a resource economist for the South Pacific Geo-Science Commission, said yesterday.

Papua New Guinea has granted mining licenses for two tracts of seabed in the Bismark Sea to Nautilus Minerals Corp., which is hoping to exploit underwater volcanic vents that belch out minerals such as gold, silver, copper and lead.

McLeod said the Papua New Guinea government licenses are the first granted anywhere for underwater poly-metallic massive sulfides.

She said the Papua New Guinea government was approaching the completion of its offshore mining policy, which is expected to become a model for other member of the commission, a Fiji-based technical agency supported by 18 governments in the region.

Fiji and the Solomon Islands also have begun writing offshore mineral policies with the help of the commission, she said.

Scientists and miners are taking increasing interest in polymetallic sulphide deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold emitted as clouds of mineral-enriched fluid from vents known as "black smokers." When the minerals hit the cold sea water, they coalesce into gold, silver, copper, lead and other metals.

The first black smokers found in the South Pacific were near Fiji in 1984 and others have been found between Fiji and Tonga and in the Manus and Woodlark submarine basins of Papua New Guinea. Large deposits of manganese have been found in the Cook Islands’ economic zone.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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