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Group denounces Alaska's Pebble Mine, citing threat to belugas

By Elizabeth Batt     Jan 22, 2013 in Environment
Social media activist group Fins and Fluke has joined with the EPA, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Hollywood star Robert Redford, to oppose the massive Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
The activist organization joins a long list of opposers fighting a mineral project that wants to explore a large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska.
The project, commonly known as Pebble Mine, has so far attracted criticism from the US' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NRDC who has joined forces with Robert Redford in denouncing the consortium of mining companies.
Redford, who has been aligned with the council since 2010, accuses global mining giants of wanting to "gouge out of the spectacular untamed wilderness above Alaska's Bristol Bay." The star wrote at The Huffington Post, "nothing like this place exists anywhere else on Earth."
EPA review highlights mining pollution
Part of the Bristol Bay watershed, Pebble is an uninhabited area about 15 miles north of Lake Iliamna. It is known to have the largest undeveloped copper ore body in the world, which according to Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. in 2010, bore an estimate of some $300 billion worth of recoverable metals.
A Sept. 2012 review by the EPA said the cost to the region's wildlife was just not worth it. "Mining has contaminated portions of the headwaters of over 40 percent of watersheds in the western continental U.S." they said.
The review was immediately challenged by the Pebble Partnership who called the EPA's Watershed Assessment "incomplete", and a failure "on legal, scientific and a regulatory grounds." Furthermore the partnership added:
Not only is it predicated on flawed assumptions, the hypothetical mine created by the EPA for the draft assessment could not be permitted under today’s strict regulatory standards either in Alaska nor anywhere in the United States.
Majority of community not in favor?
According to Joel Reynolds of the NRDC, the mining project is being strongly contested by an "overwhelming majority of residents of the Bristol Bay region, including Native communities." In fact, Reynolds explained, "public opinion polls show that over 80 percent of the region’s residents support EPA’s review and oppose the Pebble Mine."
Redford called the mining project a "disaster waiting to happen", and added that it would threaten the "tens of millions of salmon [that] course through this unspoiled Eden, feeding not just an abundance of bears, whales, seals and eagles but also the Alaskan Native communities that have thrived here for thousands of years. Salmon are the backbone of the region", he said.
Impacting salmon impacts larger wildlife
Salmon is also a necessary food source for the resident belugas of the area. "There are only five populations of beluga whales in Alaska," writes Andrew Wetzler, Director, Land & Wildlife Program at the NRDC, "Chicago and the Pebble mine threatens two of them: the populations in Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet."
This NOAA map details habitat deemed critical for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.
This NOAA map details habitat deemed critical for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales.
NOAA Alaska Fisheries
The Bristol Bay population is the healthiest of the two populations and numbers around 1,600 belugas. But according to NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Cook Inlet belugas are in dire straits. Once numbering some 1,300 animals, their population declined dramatically during the 1990s, and the 2012 population estimate is now just 312.
For social media group Fins and Fluke, their greatest concern is the impact the mine could have on Cook Inlet beluga whales.
Board Vice-President: Paige Nelson, told Digital Journal:
"The environmental threats of 10-billion tons of mining waste proposed by the development of Pebble Mine, as well as drilling giants, Apache Alaska, who want to use explosive blasts in the area, gravely threatens the survival for this species of beluga whale whose population is only estimated at 312. This will wipe them out! Extinction is forever."
Nelson also explained that Apache Alaska Corporation was looking to drill for oil in the area when the NRDC filed a lawsuit against the permits last year. According to Taryn Kiekow, Staff Attorney for NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Project, "the permits authorized the company to "take" 30 beluga whales every year incidental to the company’s oil and gas exploration in waters designated as critical for the whales’ survival."
For a population of beluga whales whose growth has yet to recover (according to NOAA Fisheries survey), the loss of 30 animals a year would almost seal this pod's fate. As a result, Fins and Fluke is urging everyone to take action to save this iconic species who according to NRDC, "are genetically distinct and geographically isolated to Cook Inlet."
"Please sign the five petitions on our page" said Nelson, and "send emails to President Obama as well as the EPA and Tweet as often as you can with #SaveCookInletBelugas and #PebbleMine. We need all hands on deck to stop this greedy giant!" she added.
More about Pebble mine, fins and fluke, cook inlet belugas, endangered beluga whales, Alaska
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