Dear Editor, The Seabed Minerals Commissioner’s letter on Monday (March 22) didn’t answer the question of what potential risks to the environment from mining were presented to communities in the pa enua.
This, amongst other indications, tells us that only one side
of the story was presented.
Instead, the Commissioner’s letter focused on the costs
involved in doing exploration activities and asks who else (other than mining
companies) would be prepared to collect this data.
This is a line given by mining companies that government
officials have adopted.
It’s government’s initiative to pursue the option of seabed
mining. So, it’s government’s duty to take the best approach.
Has any effort been made by the Seabed Minerals Authority to
invite or encourage independent research?
We’ve had a number of expeditions in our waters over several
decades that were not funded by mining companies. Have these institutions and
agencies been engaged to help us do research in our waters with their own
The letter reveals that “some applicants are already
intending to utilise reputable academic institutions and scientists as part of
their research programme.”
“Reputable” perhaps but will they be paid by the mining
companies to do this research?
What research questions are mining companies willing to
investigate? Who determines that sufficient information has been gathered? What
level of uncertainty is considered acceptable? In the interests of balance and
accountability, will members of the public, willing to work through the
science, be permitted to participate in reaching those decisions?
During my experience inside government, most government
officials, including the Seabed Minerals Commissioner are working with the best
intentions. But when the government hasn’t been honest with the public, by
withholding inconvenient information, and (as happened in my case) excluding
cautionary perspectives, and working more closely with mining companies than
with independent academic institutions, why would the public trust the
government to cover all bases?
SBMA Response – As someone who was present at these meetings, I can share that we do provide information on the expected environmental impacts during the harvesting/mining phase. We also explain very clearly that we are only in the exploration phase, and will be for the next few years. Government has not made any decision on moving to the next phase, because we simply do not have the information and data to make an informed decision.
The last significant deep-sea nodule research programme in
Cook Islands waters, the Japan-SOPAC survey, concluded in 2000 – two decades
ago. Since the establishment of the Seabed Minerals Authority (Authority) in
2013, we have strived to encourage research in our waters. We submitted a
multi-million-dollar research proposal to the New Zealand government as far
back as 2014, and we are having ongoing discussions with donor partners and
agencies, for example engaging through our Marae Moana and Climate Change
There is unprecedented, deep-sea research currently
happening in international waters and regulated by the International Seabed
Authority. Commercial companies in joint ventures with countries and academic
institutions are driving the majority of this research.
Shortly, the Authority will be sharing information on the
Exploration Licence applications with the public. Members of the public will be
given an opportunity to comment on those applications.
If the Government decides to award any Exploration Licences,
the research activities funded by licence holders will be monitored and the
data collected and analysed will be subject to verification processes. We will
follow best international standards in terms of what scientific research is
appropriate for environmental impact and resource assessment during the exploration
phase. As the regulators of these activities, the Authority and the National
Environment Service will set the requirements for resource and environmental
The Government will continue to take a science-based
approach with transparent decision-making processes, and acting in the best
interests of our country and people.
I thank Ms Evans for her feedback, and welcome other members
of the public to share their feedback directly with the Authority.