Cook Islands seabed mining researchers returned to Rarotonga last night with nearly half a tonne of the polymetallic modules they hope to mine commercially.
A government contract with Belgian Mining company GSR is helping fund research into the country’s seabed minerals, proceeding despite calls for a 10-year seabed mining moratorium in the Pacific.
The MC Grinna II and the seabed minerals research team arrived back at the Avatiu harbour after two weeks exploring in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone with two Belgian scientists on board.
The Cooks have one of the highest ratios of ocean to land area of any ocean island state in the world, and within that seabed exists an abundance of manganese nodules, thought to be the fourth richest resource of its type in the world.
Sir Tom Marsters was there to greet the team as they arrived and said this venture was likely to come to fruition very soon.
The Grinna’s return coincided with yesterday’s news that the Prime Minister’s Office had not renewed the contract of Marae Moana head Jacqui Evan, an international award-winning oceans advocate and marine biologist. The research team said they couldn’t comment
Evans played an influential role in creating the world’s largest marine park, but she has now been dumped from her government role amid robust public debate over a 10-year seabed mining moratorium. Evans is thought to be a champion of the moratorium, which would put her at odds with her political paymasters.
The government has promoted Marae Moana as a vital foundation for decisions made around seabed mining. Two days on, the Office of the Prime Minister continued to refuse comment on Evans’ sudden departure.
Democratic Party leader Tina Browne said Evans did not subscribe to the government’s disregard for regional calls for a moratorium,
“Seabed mining in the Pacific has proven to be hugely controversial,” Browne said. “It totally failed in Papua New Guinea, the experiment will cost the PNG taxpayers over $160 million and rather than learning from those mistakes … here is the Cook Islands government doing the very opposite and wanting to fast track the exploitation of our own seabed.”
GSR Exploration Manager and marine geologist Francois Charlet said their research was successful. “We did a lot of deployment of freefall grabs to collect samples. We collected about 469kg of nodules which is quite a lot,” said Charlet.
The nodules would be sent back to Belgium to be analysed.
From what they had seen, most historical data on existing nodules was accurate. “We have a good picture of what’s there but we have to do more research into the resource.”
Charlet said they would have to map the seabed in more detail and establish what existed in the environment down there, and what the impacts would be.
The expensive project would require bigger research vessels and more equipment in the future.
Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority geographical information systems officer Rima Browne who was also a part of the exploration said this is only the beginning of the much needed research.
It was Browne’s job to catalogue the nodules they collected by weighing them, taking their volume and characterising them on what they looked like and how they felt.
From there she said they would be able to identify the processes that made the nodules and what stage they are at.
According to historical data, it takes one million years to grow a nodule to 1-5 mm – and the nodules they found ranged from 10-15mm, said Browne.
She was excited to work with Charlet and learned quite a lot from the trip and the work that was done.