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Too much uncertainty over seabed mining application

Too much uncertainty for seabed mining application to be approved – KASM

The degree of uncertainty around the environmental impacts of seabed mining is too great for the EPA to grant New Zealand’s first-ever marine license to mine the seabed, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining said today.

Giving the community organisation’s closing submission to the EPA hearings into seabed mining today, KASM lawyer Duncan Currie pointed out the many international – and national – legal precedents showing that in the face of uncertainty and lack of information, the EPA’s Decision Making Committee (DMC) had no choice but to take a precautionary approach and decline the application.

Trans Tasman Resources wants to mine 50 million tonnes a year – for 20 years - from the seabed in a 66sqkm area in the South Taranaki Bight off Patea, but simply hadn’t provided sufficient scientific information to satisfy anybody on the environmental impact, he said.

During the hearings, the company had proposed an alternative approach of first undertaking two years of baseline monitoring before starting mining. This was, Currie told the hearing, “completely unacceptable” and would be an “invalid delegation to the EPA” which was required to take a decision on the evidence given in this hearing.

“Instead, the consent should be declined and the applicant should go and establish the baseline before re-applying, if they choose to reapply, then have that baseline tested in the hearing process the way it should have been in this hearing.”

KASM agreed with the EPA staff report, released this week, which pointed out the degree of uncertainty was too great to be satisfactorily addressed by the EPA certifying an environmental management plan at a later date.

“The mining will have the potential through the sedimentation, plume and noise to cause significant damage to the benthic environment, phytoplankton and zooplankton, fish and marine mammals,” Currie told the hearing.

Granting consent with an “adaptive management” approach “in the hope that conditions will ameliorate the problems in time” would be wrong.

“If full-scale mining was to commence at the scale laid before the DMC, it would be very difficult to know the effects, due to time lags, and again, the lack of a baseline means that ascertaining the effects would be impossible.

“Who is to know if Maui’s dolphins have left for other areas, were injured or killed, or did not find feed, when no acoustic or proper aerial surveys were done beforehand? And who is to know if sediment on the area and in the traps is having an effect for decades? And who is to know how long the recovery period will take?”

A new NIWA report given to the EPA last week confirmed the South Taranaki Bight is a foraging ground for blue whales. The report was based on the scientific expedition in January where 50 blue whales were seen in the area.

For both blue whales and Maui’s dolphins, “there is… little if any chance of detecting impacts during or after mining before damage is done. We know that they are long-lived, slow reproducing animals and that it would be difficult to detect changes in survival or reproductive rates. All we are left with is uncertainty, and risk.”


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