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OPINION: Deep Conversations on seabed mining in the Cook Islands

Saturday 19 December 2020 | Written by Te Ipukarea Society | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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OPINION: Deep Conversations on seabed mining in the Cook Islands
The panelists at the screening of Deep Conversations. From right, Teherenui Koteka, Maria Tuoro, Metua Vaiimene, Alanna Smith, Petero Okotai and moderator Teina Mackenzie. TIS/20121838

A strong turnout and the varied discussion points at screening of Deep Conversations documentary were evidence that our people want more information on all aspect of deep-sea mining, writes Te Ipukarea Society

On Thursday this week, Te Ipukarea Society, supported by Kōrero O Te `Ōrau hosted a screening of a mini documentary called Deep Conversations. 

Deep Conversations presented the thoughts of a cross section of Cook Islanders from all walks of life, ranging in age from 22 to 80+. It was produced by Alanna Smith from Te Ipukarea Society, with the filming and editing undertaken by Konini Rongo from Rongokura Productions. Additional footage was supplied by Tokerau Jim Images and our 2015 coral reef survey archives

The common message from most of those interviewed, was that we are moving too fast into the unknown, and we need to tread cautiously. The documentary received resounding applause from the over 70 people who turned up for the evening.

Following the screening, a panel of five well-known Cook Islanders fielded an array of questions from the audience. The panelists were: the director of the Marae Moana office Maria Tuoro, recent theatre arts graduate Teherenui Koteka, board member of Cook Islands Investment Corporation Seabed  Resources Ltd (the joint venture between the Cook Islands Government and an overseas mining company)  Petero Okotai, Te Ipukarea Society conservation programme manager Alanna Smith and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation director of destination development Metua Vaiimene. They provided a brief overview of their thoughts on deep sea mining, and then did their best to respond to some very curly questions from the audience.

In relation to the potential for deep sea mining to impact our tourism industry, Metua Vaiimene explained that the Tourism Corporation has so far been unable to use our Marae Moana in marketing the Cook Islands to tourists. This is in large part due to the park being “multi-use”, with some of those uses, including mining, being perceived as environmentally damaging.

Alanna Smith reminded everyone that although our Marae Moana is a multi-use marine park, where activities including seabed mining can potentially take place, the primary purpose of the Marae Moana Act is to protect and conserve the Cook Islands marine environment. Despite this, the tender for exploration within our waters was launched before oceanic conservation areas within our Exclusive Economic Zone have even been defined. 

Petero Okotai made it clear that irreversible damage will occur if deep sea mining goes ahead, and the big question that needs to be answered is what level of damage is going to be considered acceptable. This is why it is so important to take time, and get seabed mining environmental regulations in place that apply an appropriate measure of caution.

Teherenui Koteka really encouraged people to participate in the dialogue, to become engaged in this important issue, and to exercise their right to free speech and speak out or ask questions if they have any particular concerns.

Maria Tuoro spoke on the importance of improving collaboration between agencies, and we are grateful that she was setting an example of this by accepting our invitation to speak on the panel.

The Seabed Minerals Authority sent their apologies for not being able to participate on the panel, as they had a prior engagement. Dr. Teina Rongo was also set to be on the panel but, this being the busy season, had family commitments arise. We hope to have future, similar events, so that their (and others) valuable expertise can be heard.

The strong turnout and the varied discussion points were evidence that our people want more information on all aspect of deep-sea mining. The documentary and subsequent panel discussion may seem like small steps in making this happen, but we are hopeful for a big impact.

Te Ipukarea Society would like to sincerely thank Pasha and the staff at Tamarind House for offering the perfect venue to host the evening, Marino Evans for agreeing at very short notice to film the panel discussion, and Jim Perkins for use of his sound system, and Teina Mackenzie for her moderating the discussion. 

Also, meitaki maata to all the panelists for accepting our invitation to participate, and everyone who was brave enough to be interviewed for our documentary. We are also grateful to Sustainable Ocean Alliance and Kōrero O Te `Ōrau, who provided additional funding for the documentary and event.