In this empirically grounded perspective, we explore how, if managed correctly, mining might go beyond a straight conversion of finite natural capital to financial resources. We suggest a process where mineral extraction could act as a catalyst for more diversified growth and even serve as a basis to restore forms of ‘natural capital’ it had previously diminished. The case in point—small in scale but significant in consequence—is the particularly challenging instance of the small-island state of Nauru, which has a very negative history of socio-ecological impacts of phosphate mining. Yet, the degraded landscape requires capital investment which could be reaped from restoration of the land using revenues generated from exporting the waste rock pinnacles as branded household counter-tops and pavement stone products with an “island provenance premium”. Furthermore, we use an industrial ecology method to show that Nauru’s secondary phosphate can be shown to be less environmentally impactful than comparable phosphate from other sources. This has potential for further “green branding” of the Island’s products. We contend that implementing such a restoration approach that harnesses the remaining mineral capital with care has the potential, to diversify the island’s economy from one dependent on extractive industries and donors to agroforestry, fishing and tourism. A holistic approach is offered that considers prudent use of Nauru’s remaining mineral resources towards an agenda of ecological restoration and economic diversification that will allow the island to prosper after the phosphates it has traditionally relied upon are depleted.
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