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Cooks should be free to explore – Seabed Minerals Authority

Tuesday 9 June 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Environment


Seabed mining is the equivalent of Covid-19 to the health of our ocean, says the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations.

Executive director Emeline Ilolahia hoped a 10-year moratorium would “allow Pacific Leaders to be well-informed on how to progress with the Deep Sea Mining industry - if they choose to do so.”

But the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority says everyone’s on the same page: everybody wants more and better scientific research, to protect and sustainably use the ocean.

“In this regard, we share the same sentiments,” Commissioner Alex Herman said. “The ocean has always supported us, and we will not do anything to impact its ability to continue to support our Pacific way of life.

“We will not allow the commercial recovery of our nodules unless we are satisfied there is sufficient information on how to address and minimise any potential environmental impacts.”

Herman said Nauru, Tonga, Kiribati, and Cook Islands all supported a responsible and science-driven approach to seabed minerals extraction.

“The gathering of scientific data and information will help improve our understanding of the biodiversity of the deep sea ecosystems and functions, and assist decision-makers in identifying the best measures to safeguard the marine environment.”

Herman said there appeared to be some confusion about the call for a moratorium –there was no mining underway.

“Regulators have committed to a requirement for the collection of environmental data and information, and comprehensive environmental impact assessment prior to allowing seabed mineral recovery,” she said.

However, Ilolahia said their organisations would continue to push for leaders to take a precautionary approach, and ensure any scientific research was commissioned independently, not by mining companies with “vested interests” in progressing their industry.”

Herman said that as a government regulator, the Seabed Minerals Authority would verify any exploratory research commissioned by contractors and independent researchers, through a comprehensive monitoring programme.

“We have a unique opportunity for renewed collaboration between government, research institutions, industry and civil society,” Herman said.

“Small countries like ours that have limited natural or human resources and a very narrow economic base are particularly vulnerable – which is all the more reason why those countries should be free to, at the very least, explore the potential of the limited resources they do have.”