‘Don Diego’ Environmental Impact Assessment Undergoes Final Reviews

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., a pioneer in the field of deep-ocean exploration, provides an update on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed “Don Diego” project, which is currently undergoing final reviews prior to government filing.

'Don Diego' Environmental Impact Assessment Undergoes Final Reviews

As previously reported, the EIA for the proposed “Don Diego” project to extract phosphate sands was completed and ready to file in June. However, based on the recommendation of advisors, including the project’s environmental and legal team, the EIA has been undergoing a series of reviews with various stakeholders including environmental groups, local fishing interests and community leaders, as well as potential strategic partners. Feedback received from these reviews has been considered and incorporated into the EIA.

This community outreach and solicitation of advice has delivered a higher-than-anticipated level of favorable interest and cooperation from local and environmental groups, that in turn has resulted in over 20 meetings with stakeholders, and extensive additional reviews of the EIA. While this has extended the timeline for official government submission of the EIA, the resulting document is now more comprehensive, and moreover has advance indications of support from a diverse group of interested parties who have contributed input.

The EIA has now expanded to over 4,600 pages with the inclusion of annexes that feature extensive analyses, tests, reports and models from outside experts and environmental scientists on the proposed program to extract the phosphate sands. The extensive report demonstrates that there will be minimal environmental impact, closely paralleling the extensively studied aggregate dredging programs currently in operation off the coast of the United Kingdom.

While the entire Oceanica concession area stretches to the shoreline, the proposed dredging is in a significantly smaller area located in waters 70-90 meters deep and centered approximately 40 kilometers offshore and does not overlap any fishing concessions. The high phosphate band is in the Mexican Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), but outside territorial waters, and the proposed dredging plan covers less than ¼ of 1% of the concession area per year (1.7 square kilometers). The proposed project area is a distinct deposit which features very high phosphate content and does not overlap areas previously explored by other groups in shallower waters nearer shore featuring much lower phosphate content.

Other Important “Don Diego” Project Facts:

  • The project area features a remarkably low level of sea life and biodiversity. The area where the proposed dredging will take place is known locally to the fishermen as “Los Lodazales” (or “mud pits”) because the phosphate-rich material is relatively inhospitable to benthic fauna and therefore is not an area frequented by local fishermen seeking bottom fish;
  • The proposed extraction methodology uses a standard Trailer Suction Hopper Dredging (TSHD), a method that has been used worldwide for decades for maintenance dredging, reclamation works and dredging marine aggregates for use in construction. The impacts of TSHDs have been extensively studied in European waters and elsewhere. Our dredging partner has conducted over 200 dredging projects in Mexican waters over the past 20 years after receiving environmental approval for all projects that they have worked on, and they have maintained an excellent track record of care for the environment during the course of these projects;
  • During the extraction process, no chemicals are introduced into the ocean. Phosphate is extracted by mechanical means and only shells, oversized materials and fines are returned to the seabed in a manner that creates structure which studies have shown to enhance local fish populations;
  • The return of this natural material to the seabed will not cause any deleterious impact. Plume modeling indicates that minor increases in suspended solids from dredging operations will occur over a distance of less than four kilometers from operations. In addition, this project plans to use a “green valve” system that results in the plume being carried below the depths at which the majority of phytoplankton production occurs;
  • Extensive toxicity testing was conducted to determine the impact of any suspended solids from the activities on marine organisms. These tests showed that there was no negative impact on test organisms;
  • Testing indicated that water quality from the extraction process discharge met Californian and Mexican standards for water quality for all measurable trace minerals;
  • Sound propagation modeling indicates that the dredging activities are expected to produce sound frequencies and decibel levels comparable to other similarly sized vessels which are commonly in transit off the west coast of Baja California Sur. This would have no more effect on cetaceans than smaller vessels, including those used for whale watching. The results show that sound levels in all cases are well below those known to cause damage to marine life;
  • The dredging area is not in migration paths for either blue whales, which migrate further offshore or humpback whales, which migrate much closer to shore than the deposit. The project area is also a considerable distance from whale calving areas in Bahia Magdalena and Lagoon San Ignacio and will have no effect on whales or other sea life in those areas;
  • Turtle impact is expected to be minimal as turtles do not typically frequent the waters in the depth and area of the proposed dredging since there is minimal food available in this “mud pit” area.  Nevertheless, mitigation measures, including tickler chains and deflectors that have had excellent success rates in other areas, are proposed to ensure that if any turtles are in the area they will not be entrapped or harmed in the operation;
  • Experts in marine dredging, plume modeling, sound propagation, ecotoxicology, phosphate research and engineering were consulted and contributed to the scientific findings in the EIA.

“I have been involved in the provision of independent scientific advice to this project, based on my extensive previous experience with studies on the environmental impact and management of dredging by Trailer Suction Hopper Dredgers (TSHD) for the marine aggregates sector in the UK,” said environmental consultant Dr. Richard Newell. “Between 2002 and 2011, I was the marine science coordinator for an approximately $50 million research program funded through the UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) known as the Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF). Knowledge based on the results of work funded through the ALSF has been brought to bear on the ‘Don Diego’ TSHD project, and leading independent expertise from the UK dredging industry has played a central role in the assessment of potential impacts,” continued Newell. “I am satisfied that this work and the interpretation of the data meets the high international standards that are expected for a project of this significance.”

Press Release, July 30, 2014

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