Exclusive: Solomon Islanders feel 'forgotten' after devastating oil spill

Residents affected by a massive oil spill in the Solomon Islands say the black tar on their beaches is part of a wider problem - a largely unregulated mining operation that's plundering their resources.

Almost two months ago, a vessel chartered by a mining company ran aground, unleashing more than a hundred tonnes of oil onto the pristine waters off Rennell Island.

It's also threatening nearby Lake Tagano, named a Unesco world heritage site because of the many animal and plant species found only there.

The Solomon Trader is still firmly wedged on the reef off Rennell Island. Seven weeks since the grounding, oil remains both in the water and on the beaches.

"[It's] really a problem to us," local man Ezekiel Kago'vai told Newshub. "We cannot dive here for fish, and even the water we use to take and drink here is also polluted."

That drinking water comes from natural fresh water springs on the surrounding limestone cliffs. Now they are also off-limits.

"We use this water for this generation…for drinking and we use it for cooking."

The vessel grounded while loading Bauxite, a reddish clay used to make aluminium. More than 100 tonnes of oil leaked out.

The Government says the damage to this marine protected area is "irreversible", but that aside, the grounding of this massive ship represents a wider problem - the failure of mining companies to act responsibly and the failure of Government to enforce the law.

The spill's also threatening Lake Tegano, a UN world heritage site which is connected to the sea. The lake consists of fresh and salt water. Locals depend on it and the site harbours numerous native species.

The vessel owner has apologised, but the firm that chartered it, Chinese mining company Bintan Mining, says it has no responsibility for the crisis.

There's clear evidence of the impact on wildlife, and locals like Jeffery Pu'geva say the Government has failed to properly monitor the mining operation.

"We have been forgotten. The law is not enforced in here."

An environmental impact report by the company that contracted Bintan Mining states its work should have "significant positive impacts" for this impoverished community.

The company's built a church and sports facilities in one village, but other villages say they've seen nothing in the way of improved infrastructure like better roads or schools. 

"They do not care about us," Pugeva said. "They can do anything. They have been spoiling especially our environment....our history."

The company's report further states its mining operation will be "clean and sustainable". But when Newshub visited the loading wharf, the surrounding water was filthy with loose bauxite falling in.

"This area we used to catch crayfish and we used to dive for fish, and now already [it's] destroyed," Kago-vai said.

We found vast craters abandoned, even though the company said it would "rehabilitate and re-vegetate" the land.

Mining company operations manager Allen Hu was reluctant to discuss the villagers' concerns. He said Bintan is benefiting the local people and refused to answer any further questions.

It's only now, since the grounding, that the Government has said it will take action.

The Prime Minister has even indicated that the way the mining company got its consent to work here may have been illegal. Despite this, the digging of bauxite continues unabated.