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Crucial decision by Environmental Protection Agency

Swakopmund Matters 10 - 2014 –

Crucial decision by New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency regarding marine mining

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refused a mining consent application to Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd - the company proposed to excavate up to 50 million tons of sand per year from the seabed around 30 km offshore.

The EPA outlined that the decision was made mainly due to the uncertainty around the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, and those on existing interests, such as the fishing interests.

Trans-Tasman Resources could not overcome technological hurdles and fears among scientists and environmentalists that mining could destroy fragile fisheries and exotic creatures at the bottom of the ocean.

Its Chief Executive, Tim Crossley, said the company was extremely disappointed with the decision. “We have put a significant amount of time and effort into developing this project including consulting local communities and undertaking detailed scientific research to assess environmental impacts of the project,”

However the lobby group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) saw this as a huge victory for New Zealand's environment. KASM Chair Phil McCabe said:

“This decision is a victory for common sense and environmental protection”.

Trans-Tasman Resources hoped to have started mining in 2016 as it already had a mining license, but needed the marine consent from New Zealand's EPA.

This was the EPA's first test of regulating mining in the country's territorial waters. Its next is an application from Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd, seeking to mine phosphate several hundred kilometres off the east coast of the South Island.

In the Executive Summary of the decision the EPA made these telling remarks:

“The uncertainties in the scope and significance of the potential adverse environmental effects, the lack of confidence we find in the extent to which existing interests will be appropriately taken into account, the lack of clarity about the extent of economic benefit to New Zealand outside of royalties and taxes and the economic value of the adverse effects, cannot be remedied by the imposition of other lawful conditions that we could require based on the evidence before us.

In summary, on the evidence presented, we are not satisfied that the life-supporting capacity of the environment would be safeguarded or that the adverse effects of the proposal could be avoided, remedied or mitigated, nor do we consider that the proposed conditions (including the adaptive management approach) are sufficiently certain or robust for this application to be approved, given the uncertainty and inadequacy of the information presented to us about the potential adverse effects.

Overall, we think this application was premature. More time to have better understood the proposed operation and the receiving environment and engage more constructively with existing interests and other parties may have overcome many of the concerns we have set out in this decision. It is conceivable that at least some of these matters could have been addressed contemporaneously with the other investigative work the applicant undertook prior to lodging the application for consents. Ultimately, the information upon which we had to make our decision, while voluminous, was too uncertain and inadequate, and we did not have sufficient confidence in the adaptive management approach proposed to address that uncertainty and inadequacy to enable the activity to be undertaken. For all of these reasons, the application as presented to us does not meet the sustainable management purpose of the EEZ Act”.

The significance of this decision and the reasoning behind it should not escape the minds of those in Namibia who have an equally important task in protecting and preserving Namibia’s marine environment and its resources.


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