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Calls for Government to protect fossil-rich Otago area from being dug up for animal food

A leading Otago University researcher is calling for the Government to protect an area rich in fossils from being dug up for pet food.

Resource company Plaman Global want to mine the historic site in Otago known as Foulden Maar and use the deposits as feed for livestock, a natural alternative to antibiotics.

The maar is a 23 million-year-old volcanic crater near Middlemarch, formed by layers of sediment, known as diatomite, settling on top of one another following an eruption.

There are roughly 120,000 layers of the sediment, each representing a geological year, each with hidden layers of leaves, plants, insects and even extinct species of fish.

"If you went to the edge of the quarried area with your spade or your pocket knife, you could cut a slice down through these layers and then you could count one, two, three, 100, 1000, 10,000 years of geological time represented in these layers," Otago University geologist Daphne Lee says.

Despite being used for research, Plaman Global want to mine the diatomite substance, claiming it’s a natural alternative for livestock feed.

Several requests to interview the company about the project, have been denied.

Labour MP Clare Curran has spoken to the company involved, saying she wants them to front up to several questions, but also backs a fair process.

"I understand the scientific importance of it, but I was also interested in the potential for the product to be a natural alternative to antibiotics in livestock feed, which could potentially have merit," Curran says.

If the mining is given the go-ahead, it’d likely mean thousands of years of New Zealand’s past would never be able to be uncovered.

It'd also mean a big transformation for the town of Middlemarch, with trucks in and out of the settlement every day.

"There's going to be 216 truck movements down here, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for over 20 years ... every day, all night all day," Middlemarch resident Shane Loader says.

Dr Lee wants the government to step in and protect the site from any potential mining.

The proposal now hinges on the Overseas Investment Office, with several parties ready to fight for the maar's existence.

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Resource company Plaman Global wants to mine the historic site in Otago and use the deposits to feed livestock. Source: 1 NEWS