We need to look below the surface
Phil McCabe | The Domion Post
In the wake of two out of two failed seabed mining applications in less than a year, the sensible move for our Government at this point would be to place a moratorium on seabed mining in New Zealand waters.
The first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision denying an ironsands proposal off Patea, Taranaki, last June stated that, overall, the application was premature. And that is precisely the point.
Moratoria have been placed in both the Northern Territory of Australia and Namibia to allow for more information to emerge and time for the people and authorities to better understand the implications of seabed mining.
Seabed mining has grown considerably in the consciousness of New Zealanders. Before the double denial from the EPA on the first two applications to mine for minerals in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), awareness was restricted to those pushing for – and against – the novel industry establishing itself off our shores.
On the one hand we have a Government standing with open arms bellowing, “Haere mai, we’ve got minerals, come get ’em world”, and its call has been answered by the few who smelled the gold in them hills, pouring millions of dollars on the application process, only to be denied by the very regime that invited them in.
Then we have coastal communities, affected iwi and existing users of the marine environment uniting and spending countless hours and considerable resources fighting to protect their values, way of life and existing livelihoods.
The reality is that it’s an extremely complex situation and, it seems, no-one is prepared to back down at this point. There is too much at stake.
It cannot be denied that mining for minerals from the seabed, as proposed by the two companies, is destructive.
Scientifically, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the complexities of our marine environment, let alone what the effects would be if the untested activity of large-scale mining were introduced.
And no-one in the world has done seabed mining of this kind yet. The science and the engineering are new, and untested. Should we be the guinea pigs?
Our EEZ is massive: 20 times our land area and it is poorly understood. But the Government should not be relying solely on industry to fill the information vacuum. Its opening up of these areas was premature.
The EPA, in its Chatham Rock decision, said “it is incontestably the case that there remained significant gaps in the data and information provided about the consent area’s marine environment as well as uncertainty about the impact of the proposal on existing interests and the environment”.
It is time for the national discussion that one would expect for an issue that touches the core of New Zealand values and is of such potential significance to our environment and economy.
The Environmental Defence Society has called for a spatial planning exercise for our EEZ. I imagine that would be a considerable process but it would go a long way to resolving many of the unresolved issues that have surfaced.
Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, supported by by other groups, called for a moratorium on seabed mining in October 2013. In light of these decisions, it makes more sense than ever, offering time for a civil and proper process to take place.
The other options for Government would be to do nothing, which would be fine by us, as the bar has clearly been set high enough to stop applications in the absence of information.
Or it could bend to commercial pressure and roll back its legislation to favour industry, lower environmental standards and reduce the ability for we, the people, to have a say in the health of our oceans. That would be entirely unacceptable.
Phil McCabe is a tourism business owner from Raglan, and chairman of community group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining.