Mark Brown: Seabeds law ‘safeguards’ our oceans

Thursday June 04, 2020 Published in Letters to the Editor
Mark Brown. Mark Brown.

Kia orana editor,

I write in response to a number of claims made by Jacqui Evans (Letters, May 30).

And in particular to the suggestion that the government has somehow been communicating false information to our people.

To begin with, I would say it’s important not to conflate different things together to stoke public feelings and emotions, as this is not helpful nor truthful. It is always better to engage in more meaningful discussions based on facts and reason.

In doing so, we may find we agree on things more often than not. For instance, we all actually agree on the basic requirement to gain more knowledge, through a structured programme of research, to better understand our deep-sea environment within our Cook Islands waters.

Exploration is a fundamental key to understanding this environment, and of course, any impacts future potential recovery operations may have on the deep-sea environment, including on its biodiversity.

Without exploration (which I stress, is not ‘mining’), we have no realistic way of gaining a better understanding of the deep-sea environment, and indeed to know whether we may or may not be able to harness the resources which exist at these depths in the longer term.

However, gathering scientific data and information is a costly venture. Who is it anticipated would pay for this much-needed generation of scientific data and analysis?

Without issuing exploration licences, we will not be in a position to attract responsible investors to undertake this scientific work. And again, I would emphasise it is the issuance of ‘exploration’ licences, and not ‘mining’ licences at this time.

It is important to appreciate that these are two very different and discrete activities. In addition, we will be providing opportunities for Cook Islands researchers and scientists as well as encouraging independent researchers to participate in such programmes in order to provide a robust and transparent information platform upon which to base any future decisions we may choose to make.

To be clear, we will not allow the commercial recovery of our nodules without sufficient research on how to address and minimise any potential environmental impacts.

In fact, the legislation we have put in place is there to precisely safeguard this principle.

Lastly, while we are fortunate that in our country we have many qualified scientists, legal practitioners and managers who work tirelessly and responsibly for the interests of our country and our people, we are nevertheless always open to reasoned discussion and constructive input to help guide any decisions we may make. 

To this end I would like to thank Jacqui Evans for once again drawing attention to this important issue and for providing me an opportunity to clarify some aspects of it for your readers. I would encourage her to live by her own words in the last sentence of her letter.

Kia manuia,

Mark Brown
Minister responsible for Seabed Minerals.

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