For the past seven years the Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) company has had legal disputes over whether it has the right to conduct deep sea mining over a 66-square kilometre area 22 to 36 kilometres offshore from Pātea, New Zealand. This move has been opposed by many environmental groups as well as the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Seabed mining in New Zealand
TTR’s first application in Taranaki Bight of a marine consent for seabed mining was declined. However, TTR’s second application was approved and is now being appealed. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court which will deliver its ruling later in 2021. If TTR gets the green light, the mining process would extract about 50 million tonnes of black iron sand annually, releasing massive sediment plumes in the waters.
The exact effect on the marine environment of the Pacific Ocean is still disputed since not enough is known about the deep-sea environment. However, some scientists believe that these sediment plumes can have devastating effects on microorganisms such as krill as well as large marine mammals like whales.
This “will burden island states which rely on the ocean for fishing and food with significant environmental impacts” said Green list MP, Eugenie Sage to Global Green News (GGN). Sage pointed to the “long history in the Pacific of external actors coming in and stripping communities of their resources, leaving them with nothing….That can’t be repeated with seabed mining”
A marine moratorium
Under the Green Party’s Thriving Oceans election policy, a ten year moratorium on seabed mining was proposed.
Sage said to GGN:
“The Greens want no seabed mining in the Pacific until there’s proof that it won’t damage marine environments and there is a strong and effective regulatory regime…”
Sage went on to say that the Greens and groups like “Kiwis Against Seabed Mining” have pushed for the government to enact a “strong regulatory regime at the International Seabed Authority”. This regime must be “comparable to the marine consenting regime which applies under NZ’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Extended Continental Shelf Act”. In turn, the Act would regulate the seabed mining activities “beyond 12 nautical miles” within the EEZ.
Since seabed mining is a relatively newer extractive practise, not enough international regulations have been established. At this time, the Naura government have set a rule in motion to allow mining to occur in two years’ time, while the International Seabed Authority (ISA) does not have a regulatory framework in place yet.
NZ Foreign Affairs Minister, Nanaia Mahuta said in parliament:
“Nauru’s decision to trigger the two-year rule at a time when the International Seabed Authority cannot meet in person as a result of COVID has been expressed by New Zealand as unwelcome and presents a challenge because of the COVID circumstance.”
Mahuta went on to say that this “rushed process” risked “an inadequate mining code” and “the reputation of the ISA”.
“Ocean scientists have warned that mining activity should not proceed until more research is conducted into the little known environment of the deep sea. The areas of the deep sea … support some of the most biodiverse and scientifically important ecosystems on Earth.”– Green party of Aotearoa New Zealand list MP, Teanau Tuiono in an op-ed on Newshub.
When asked by GGN as to what concerned New Zealanders could do, Sage encouraged people to write Foreign Affairs Minister, Nanaia Mahuta or to reach out to NGOs such as Green Peace “which are campaigning at the International Seabed Authority for a moratorium and an effective international regulatory regime”.
While New Zealanders await the Supreme Court’s decision, the Greens have backed calls for action to the government to protect the marine environment legislatively. As part of Teanau Tuiono’s demands in an op-ed, he suggested the creation of a “UN ratified Global Oceans Treaty that will protect our world’s oceans from harmful human activity”.