Children of Nassau with Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman. SBM/21021950
Palmerston and Nassau were the last islands to receive consultations on the Cook Islands seabed minerals (SBM) sector by the Government, as part of the recent government voyage on the MV Taunga Nui.
Minister Mark Brown led the SBM consultations along with Commissioner Alex
Herman, SBM Advisory Committee member George George Williamson, and Marae Moana
coordinator Maria Tuoro.
is fitting that we travelled by sea to reach Palmerston, Nassau and Pukapuka
for these SBM consultations which took several days,” said Prime Minister Brown
in a statement from Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority.“It was a good
reminder of not only how massive our two million square kilometres exclusive
economic zone (EEZ) is, but also gave us an appreciation of the travel
constraints for our islands that are only accessible by boat.”
its SBM presentations, Government introduced deep seabed minerals, in
particular the nodules found within Cook Islands waters, estimated to be 12
billion tonnes. Government also explained the exploration licencing process
currently underway, which would ultimately lead to more information and data
collected on the marine environment.
made clear that it was only allowing exploration activities at this stage, with
a decision on whether commercial harvesting could take place some years away.
Papa Terii Kaisara Pa ki Tonga Ariki at the seabed minerals consultation in Pukapuka. SBM/21021953
up was Palmerston on January 28, 2021. It was a late evening consultation but
this did not deter the engagement of the 32 residents, with the SBM
presentation followed by a lengthy question and answer session finishing at
A key theme from the audience was that they
found the presentation very interesting, and wanted more information on what
was happening in the sector. The young people of Palmerston showed particular
interest, with some doing their own research beforehand, but they still learnt
a lot from the presentation. Juliana Marsters shared: “I would like to see more
evidence to help enlighten our people so we are not left out…so let’s keep that
Officer Arthur Neale initiated a discussion on the education curriculum and
whether SBM issues were sufficiently incorporated in educational materials.
Sherrin Hibbard asked a number of questions, including on the potential
environmental impacts of commercial harvesting. Alex Herman responded that the
types of impacts were fairly well known, and that it was up to any exploration
contractors to prove to the Government that they would be able to address and
mitigate those potential environmental impacts before Government would consider
allowing them to proceed commercial harvesting.
enjoyed the Palmerston consultation and the robust question and answer
session,” said Herman “It goes to show, no matter how small or remote our
community, they are just as interested and ready to engage. This is after all a
national resource, and their voice is important.”
Juliana Marsters of Palmerston. SBM/21021951
next island consulted was Nassau on February 3, which had a delayed start due
to rough seas. Nevertheless, the island inhabitants welcomed the Prime Minister
and his delegation with beautiful singing and warm smiles. After the kaikai, it
was straight into consultations.
the SBM presentation, the first speaker had the crowd laughing when he urged
the Government to hurry up and get on with the extraction so that he could see
the benefits in his lifetime.
Teautu Neiao asked about whether the commercial harvesting would affect the
fisheries. Prime Minister Brown explained that the fish were mostly located in
shallower waters of around 200 metres, whereas the nodules were located in much
deeper waters up to 6 kilometres, and that extraction was not expected to
affect fisheries. He added that the exploration research would look into this
issue further to ensure that fisheries would not be affected. After the
consultation, Neiao said she was happy with what Government shared, and wanted
to see the SBM sector developed for the benefit of the country.
members of the community voiced their support for Government’s development of
the sector, including admin officer Tuakatau Wuatai and Aronga Mana Tuaine
Cook Islands EEZ showing nodule abundance and islands consulted. SBM/21021952
had already been consulted by Government in the past, but the delegation took
the opportunity to give the island an SBM update on February 4. It was another
late consultation finishing at about 9pm.
first question of the night was about whether there would be digging of the sea
floor to get the nodules. Prime Minister Brown clarified that the nodules sat
on top the ocean floor so there would be no need to dig into the sea floor.
from the Aronga Mana, Island Council, and the local community voiced their
support for the SBM development.
George shared that the SBM Advisory Committee were interested in what Maori
name or names should be used for the word “nodule”, stating that this was
important in assisting the Cook Islands people engagement with seabed minerals.
The community put forward a few suggestions on a meaning in the Pukapukan
Levi Walewaloa wrapped up the consultation by reiterating Pukapuka and Nassau’s
support for the Government’s development of the SBM sector.
Prime Minister Brown was pleased with the three Pa Enua consultations.
was great to see our people’s interest in our SBM sector, and to receive their
questions and feedback,” he said, “This is the whole purpose of our
consultations: to engage with our people and to hear their views and concerns.
It takes a lot of effort, but we are committed to it.”
of the Seabed Minerals Authority’s key priorities for 2021 is stakeholder
engagement, in particular with its Cook Islands people.
said: “2021 is a big year for us, as we are running our licencing process for
exploration – so it is all the more important for us to go out to our people so
they understand what we are doing in this space, as well as giving them an
opportunity to share their views.”
have started the year solidly with a few key consultations on Rarotonga and our
Pa Enua, and we will continue to consult and engage with our people throughout