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5 December 2020

Seabed mining is ‘greener’

Thursday 18 June 2020 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Environment

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Cook Islands says its plans to mine the ocean floor to “harvest” polymetallic nodules are the world’s greenest option.

But conservationists are doubtful: they say more research is needed to validate this.

The nodules, contain valuable cobalt, manganese and titanium, laie on the ocean floor in the country’s huge exclusive economic zone.

Alex Herman, the Seabed Minerals Commissioner, told RNZ mining the ocean floor to get these minerals was the “greener” option.

Conservationist Gerald McCormack says Cook Islands’ biological knowledge of its abyssal ecosystems was very poor.

There needed to be much more research before mining could be adequately assessed, he said. “I believe that with good planning enough biological information could be obtained to enable a realistic evaluation of the likely impacts of uplifting some of our nodules.

“Because the Cook Islands is the only Pacific islands country with such a resource it is not as though everyone in the region is going to be mining nodules. The Cook Islands will be going it alone – hopefully, with due precaution.”

But Herman said the nodules were needed, adding “this is all the more important when you look at the impact climate change is having.

“So a consequence of that is the demand for minerals associated with a low carbon economy that leads us to the question then of how these metals going to be sourced, if we are going to move to that low carbon economy.”

McCormack said if the world is going to move to many more electric vehicles as a means of combating climate change then, in the immediate future, there would be a need for cobalt-based batteries.

“Most forecasts predict that with this option, an immense amount of new cobalt will be required for at least 20 years, and then the amount needed will reduce as recycling increases. I know some sceptics say cobalt batteries are already on the way out but most industry predictions don’t support this view,” he said.

“The Congo is the major source of cobalt with major humanitarian problems, and many think that abyssal nodules would be worth harvesting if the environmental impacts can be reduced to an acceptable level.”

Efforts to mine the minerals from the ocean floor is expected to speed up following the passing of the Seabed Minerals Amendment Bill 2020.

The Bill was scheduled to be tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The Government said yesterday that the new Seabed Minerals Amendment Bill would be put out to public consultation, in response to pleas from Te Ipukarea Society and other environmental groups