LETTERS: Referendum on seabed mining

Saturday 9 October 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion


LETTERS: Referendum on seabed mining

Letters for Saturday October 9, 2021

Dear Editor, 

My reference to seabed mining licences being recommended by the Seabed Minerals Licensing Panel is absolutely intentional.

Governments, government agencies, NGOs, the UN Special Envoy on Oceans, Google, Samsung, Volvo and BMW have called for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining so that data can be collected to better understand the impacts of mining.  

Their concern is that exploration will be done only enough to support and justify mining. 

They’re concerned that exploration won’t be done long enough to determine the long-term effects of mining or the effects on species indirectly connected to the mined area, among other things. 

My concern is the same and also that once companies invest millions of dollars to collect exploration data, it will be difficult for the government to deny a mining licence for any particular reason. 

There are terrestrial mining companies that have sued authorities in other countries for denying a mining licence. 

While the Seabed Minerals Act 2019 gives us a number of options for denying a licence, is there provision for the government to deny a mining licence simply because the Cook Islands decided it no longer wanted to pursue seabed mining as a development option? 

Is there provision to deny a mining licence for the reason that the Cook Islands government and/or the Cook Islands community don’t believe sufficient data has been collected to determine risks?

What is the exact wording used in agreements the Cook Islands have with foreign companies that protect us from a lawsuit should we decide for whatever reason not to issue a mining licence?  

What other ways are we protected from lawsuits?

There are other questions I’ve raised in my letter of 25th September that remain unanswered. 

The decision to pursue seabed mining was made by just a few individuals based on a dream instilled during expeditions decades ago before the human race was aware of the scale at which humans can impact the environment. 

Yet, similar to the cases of the Sheraton hotel and Toagate, it’s the people who will be liable through their taxes if a mining company successfully sues us, or worse, if insufficient data is collected to understand the impacts of mining and we irreversibly damage our ecosystem through issuing licences to mine. 

Because of the uncertainty, we should consider a referendum so the people can decide if this is a development option for us. 

This discussion needs to remain public where it is transparent and inclusive. 

Jacqui Evans


Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman’s reply – I do not believe that back and forth letters to the editor leads to a constructive discussion on SBM (seabed minerals) issues.

Members of the public can contact the Authority to discuss their concerns further by email: sbma@cookislands.gov.ck.

Where valid concerns are raised, including by Ms Evans, the Authority will publish those questions and responses for the public.

Issues that the Authority will be addressing in the coming days include the moratorium call and our SBM licensing regime.

I will not be responding to further letters to the editor, particularly those containing sensationalist statements, unless it is to clarify Government’s position or where I believe it will be of benefit to our people’s understanding of the SBM issues at hand.

God Bless and Kia Manuia.


kelvin passfield on 12/10/2021

Some very fair and valid questions here from Jacqui Evans, a very well educated and knowledgeable Cook Islander who has gained international recognition for her work as an environmentalist. The reply from the Seabed Minerals Authority is disappointing. This letter from Ms Evans contains valid questions from a concerned member of the Public, which other members of the public are just as interested in the answers to. SBMA should not get to decide that the questions are sensational, and not worthy of a response. In a democratic society, letters to the editor are acknowledged as one way to bring issues to the attention of the public that otherwise may be ignored by government - no doubt the reason this letter was sent to the editor in the first place, and not to the SBMA. If the Authority is able to adequately answer the questions privately, responding publicly should not be an issue, and will go a long way in demonstrating good faith and transparency.

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