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11 November 2022

Te Ipukarea Society: International pressure building against the rush to mine the deep sea

Saturday 24 February 2024 | Written by Te Ipukarea Society | Published in Environment, National

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Last week, representatives from 133 member states of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from February 12-17, to discuss measures to protect migratory species on a global scale. The Cook Islands is one of these member states.

The meeting focused on several crucial topics, including the conservation of whales, sharks, and migratory birds.

In what many marine scientists around the world would consider the high note of the meeting, it concluded on February 17 with the adoption of a very significant resolution related to deep seabed mining.

This resolution urges all parties to the CMS not to “engage in, or support, deep-seabed mineral exploitation activities until sufficient and robust scientific information has been obtained to ensure that deep-seabed mineral exploitation activities do not cause harmful effects to migratory species, their prey and their ecosystems”.

Migratory species of particular concern to us here in the Cook Islands includes whales, turtles, sharks, tuna and migratory birds. These species are important both economically and culturally to the Cook Islands people.

There was broad agreement among delegates that evidence of the potential impacts of deep seabed mining remains insufficient. Many expressed support for a precautionary pause. CMS has a role to play in building the scientific evidence base on deep-sea mining’s impact on marine migratory species, particularly beyond national jurisdiction.

The Cook Islands was one of very few countries to speak up in support of a letter from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) that criticised the draft resolution.  The ISA letter made reference to a number of “independent” scientists that had reviewed and disagreed with the draft resolution that was circulated prior to the COP climate change conference. However, a quick google search of these so called independent scientists tells us that most are affiliated with a company called MarineSpace Ltd, a firm that makes most of its money by offering services to the marine minerals and offshore oil and gas companies. Another of the scientisists is the Director of the International Marine Minerals Society. These scientists can therefore hardly be called independent.

The Cook Islands delegation supported the letter from the ISA, and said that our Cook Islands scientists agree with the views of these so called independent experts. We do not know who these Cook Islands scientists referred to are. Most Cook Islands scientists that we know of with a PhD or other qualification related to marine biology and marine ecosystems are supportive of a moratorium, or an outright ban on deep seabed mining.

As a party to the CMS, under this adopted resolution, the Cook Islands is requested to:

  1. Inform the Secretariat by 30 June 2024 of any relevant scientific or other information, including any EIA guidance, that considers the impacts of deep-seabed mineral exploitation activities on migratory species, their prey and their ecosystems;
  2. Prioritise research, including monitoring programmes as appropriate, into the impacts of deep-seabed mineral exploitation activities on migratory species, their prey and their ecosystems;
  3. Support the work of the Scientific Council, as directed …

The adoption of this resolution by the CMS COP highlights yet another global, multilateral organisation taking a strong stance on the issue of deep seabed mining.