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Need for public to be informed, involved on marine mining

Swakopmund Matters 12 – 2014:

The need for the public to be informed and involved in the issues of marine mining


NZ no to seabed mining a cautionary tale for the Pacific –

Interview with Phil McCabe, Chairman, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) on Radio Australia on 25 June 2014

In this interview McCabe raises and underlines an important aspect which is not always given enough attention and which must be moved more center stage in this whole debate on marine mining:


See especially sections in RED below where he expands on this participation and cautions about what level of destruction is acceptable to the nation for economic return.


Presenter: Brian Abbott of Radio Australia

New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority has torpedoed a proposal for the first seabed mining venture off the coast of Taranaki. The Taranaki mining project would have had a severe ecological impact on the area's complex marine environment. NZ no to seabed mining is a cautionary tale for the Pacific. Trans Tasman Resources had proposed mining for iron ore 22 kilometres off the coast. But the EPA said no, citing concerns about the potential environmental effects and the effects of existing fishing and Kiwi interests. The decision raises questions about whether proposed sea bed mining projects across the Pacific could go ahead without causing environmental damage.

Phil McCabe says the Taranaki project would have had a severe ecological impact.

McCABE: The marine environment is a very complex environment and this hasn't been done anywhere in the world on the scale of what the company was talking about here. And they hadn't done a strong enough base line study on what exists in the environment and therefore there was no way to predict what the impacts of the activity would have. So too much uncertainty.

ABBOTT: Is that a particularly fragile marine environment?

McCABE: It's a highly active marine environment, reasonably strong currents and a lot of wave action, so you wouldn't think in looking at it from a distance, you wouldn't think it's a particularly sensitive area, but even still, it's a certain environmental destruction that occurs when you undergo this activity. It wasn't acceptable in this case.

ABBOTT: The project for mining at Taranki was approved by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, but knocked back by the Environmental Protection Authority. Is that the way things happen in New Zealand? The EPA has the final word on mining projects?

McCABE: Well yeah, there's two sort of parallel processes that occur, one is it moves through the petroleum and minerals of the government. It goes from a prospecting permit to an exploration permit, to a mining permit and those things there's not a public process for that side of it. The one that just got knocked by the EPA that for a marine consent to actually undergo, do the activity and that's where the public process comes in. And we saw the 99.5 percent of the submissions nearly 5,000 submissions were in Opposition, so it's clear that it was a socially and culturally offensive proposal.

ABBOTT: Is this the only proposal for seabed mining in New Zealand?

McCABE: No, there's the second ever application was lodged just a few weeks ago and it's just become publicly notified about ten days ago, I think it closes for submissions on the 10th. of July, and that's for a massive mine off the east coast of the South Island, on the Chatham Rise. They are looking at a 10,000 square kilometre area, where they would hope to mine 1,000 to 1,500 square kilometres in that area and they are looking for phosphate for fertiliser for our farms.

ABBOTT: Now, I imagine as Chairman of KASM, you would have done quite a bit of study on the prospects for seabed mining, as you say, it doesn't happen anywhere in the world. But the first project is going ahead, the Nautilus Mining Project off the north coast of Papua New Guinea. From what you know about seabed mining, do you believe the Nautilus Project will be safe?

McCABE: Safe for what is the question. It's the guaranteed destruction of an area where the mine. The real question is, is how big an area and what will the impacts be around the mining area? How big an area will those impacts be felt and I haven't looked at the Nautilus one particularly closely, but yes, that's for Papua New Guinea to decide.

The thing that really concerns me is I've watched that process over the last 18 months or so, is the lack from where we stood in New Zealand, it seemed that the people that are likely to be affected had very little knowledge about this proposal up until it had, to the point where it was consented. So I think that's an issue that many island nations will be facing now with governments looking at this as a way to boost economy is that the people on the ground that are facing the environmental consequences, they need to be informed more fully before the governments move ahead. And it's a bit scary that the SOPAC is setting down the framework for these companies to get consent before many people on the ground are even aware that this is a possibility.

ABBOTT: Phil, do you believe it's safe to carry out seabed mining with environmental controls that would be accepted by a group like the New Zealand EPA?

McCABE: We haven't seen a proposal that shows that and, as I said, it's guaranteed destruction and it's just what,what's acceptable to the nation, what level of destruction is acceptable to the nation for economic return.

All of these nations have Exclusive Economic Zones and they are areas that we have the right exploit for economic gain, but we've also got a responsibility to protect those areas and maintain the integrity of the marine environment, so we really have to look at that and our view, KASM's view is that this is moving too fast, while we've got the technological ability to mine the oceans, we don't feel that we have the scientific understanding to predict the long term effects. And we know that our oceans are in trouble on many levels, from overfishing and pollution and we think that there needs to be a slow walk towards this as a possibility, rather than the race that's going on right now.

Swakopmund Matters

26 June 2014

(For Swakopmund Matters the environment of the Namibian coastline and its ocean matters)

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