Brown, who is also the minerals and natural resources minister, visited Tongareva and Pukapuka with their respective MPs, Infrastructure minister Robert Tapaitau and Cook Islands Party MP Tingika Elikana, earlier this month.
After public consultations on seabed minerals activities in Rarotonga and Mangaia, Brown said they took the seabed working group to give presentations on the subject to the people in the northern group islands.
“Very happy with the result and very pleased that we took the time to go up north,” Brown said.
“The response from our people has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of support for this first step we are looking to take, which is the exploration phase of our seabed minerals
“We were able to explain to people what that exactly entails in terms of its low impact and in terms of the environment. (This is) also the stage for us to gain more information, more knowledge about the seabed, the seafloor, the life forms on the seafloor, the biodiversity and things like the equipment and the technology required and so forth.”
Brown said the presentation gave people an opportunity to respond and give their views on activity that the government was looking to embark on early in the New Year.
“And I have to say, on Tongareva and also on Pukapuka, the message from our people was good … ‘go ahead and start the work now’, so that we are in a better position in the future to make a determination whether we take the second stage of harvesting of these nodules.”
Brown said the consultation team was looking at completing visits to the remaining outer islands - Ngaputoru, Aitutaki, Manihiki and Rakahanga, next month.
After the consultation in Rarotonga, Brown said the “majority of the Cook Islands community” had shown positive support for steady progress towards the proposed first steps for more exploration and research of the country’s precious deep seabed environment and its abundant manganese nodule resource. He said this in spite of the fact that only around 40 people attended each of the meetings.
At a public consultation in Titikaveka last month, there was backlash againts government’s plan to issue foreign companies five-year licences to explore the seabed.
Traditional leader Tupe Short said he felt the consultations were not enough. Sonny Daniel agreed.
“It’s such a big topic,” Daniel said, “and the majority of our people don’t understand what it’s all about… I represent six families and if they ask what (this consultation was) about, I’ll say I object because I don’t understand it myself.”
Marine scientist Dr Teina Rongo also expressed concern over Minister Brown’s earlier statement that, according to scientific theories, reserving areas of the seabed would allow mined areas to recover.
“I don’t think we can say that now because we don’t have…that information,” Dr Rongo said. He noted no other country had mined its seafloor, so there was no available scientific data about the ecosystem and the impact of mining it.
Dr Rongo also said the presentation from Brown had not addressed the risks of seabed mining and suggested government’s acceleration of seabed minerals activity flew in the face of the commitments the country was making on the international stage.
“What we are entering right now is actually a risking of everything we are trying to protect (and) trying to advocate to the rest of the world… Sometimes I wonder whether (government knows) what is really at risk,” he said. “My concern is we are risking the very environment we are trying to fight for.”
Former Cook Islands High Commissioner to New Zealand, Iaveta Short, talked about how the Cook Islands people do not own the minerals on the seafloor but are “merely caretakers” and as such have a responsibility to do this “properly”.
“We really need to be very careful because our own history has so many disasters,” he said. “Just look around the corner with the Sheraton hotel - that was only a small project and we ended up with debt of $120 million.”
In an earlier statement Brown said: “Our community has asked for more detail on a few matters, which we will be sharing in the coming weeks, including the proposed amendments to the 2009 Seabed Minerals Act, Regulations and Sector plan.”