Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Giant snails lose millions for New Zealand coal mine


New Zealand's main coal exporter said yesterday it has lost millions of dollars in profits due to lengthy delays at one of its mines -- thanks to 5,300 rare giant land snails.

State-owned miner Solid Energy said that conservation rules mean it has been forced to mine at a snail's pace, costing the company about NZ$35 million (US$26 million) in the current financial year.

It blamed 19 months of delays in accessing high quality coking coal on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island on the conservation requirement that rare giant Powelliphanta Augustus snails in the area be found, collected and moved to a new habitat before mining could proceed.

Conservationists say the giant land snails in the area are a rare sub-species.

The cost figure includes NZ$25 million in lost profit this financial year because of delayed export coal shipments, and NZ$10 million in costs, chief executive Don Elder said.

It has cost the company more than NZ$6,000 for each of the 5,300 native land snails found and relocated so far, he said, adding that the company was now breaking contract commitments because of delays.

It would lose up to five export shipments, totaling 300,000 tonnes of coal, to China, India, Japan and South Africa before the end of June, he added.

Solid Energy had expected that it would take only a few months to clear the Stockton mining area of the snails. But many more snails had been found than the 500 to 1,000 that conservationists predicted, including some in areas where they had never been found before.

Save Happy Valley Coalition, the group spearheading the campaign to save the snails, said Solid Energy could have saved itself and the snails by mining elsewhere.

"Obviously if they had left that core habitat, or even a portion of that core habitat [undisturbed], they would have protected that species with a guarantee that it survives," spokeswoman Francis Mountier said.

"There's still no science that says this is going to be a successful relocation," she added.

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