Radio New Zealand
The Cook Islands has just opened up bidding for mining precious metals from the seabed of its vast 2 million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Finance Minister says companies will be tendering for ten licences to explore blocks of 11 thousand square kilometres each and there’s been interest from Europe, Canada and Asia.
Jenny Meyer asked Mark Brown how the Cook Islands Government will ensure the environment is not spoilt by extracting minerals from the ocean floor.
MARK BROWN: We’ve got some very good environmental legislation that goes hand in hand with our seabed minerals legislation. The actual minerals themselves are set at a depth of up to 5 to 6 thousand metres on the sea floor. So that’s a significant depth. And a lot of the life systems in the ocean are at much higher levels rather that at that depth. But of course the exploration provides an opportunity to learn more also about the environmental impacts that may occur if mining and exploitation was to take place.
JENNY MEYER: As the Minister of Finance for the Cook Islands, what do you hope that the government could gain through this tendering process?
MB: Well first of all I guess it would sort out those companies that are serious and wanting to invest in exploration to find out a bit more about the industry and developing the industry. But longer term the Cook Islands and its people would like to be in a position to be able to exploit the wealth that sits within our EEZ but to do it in a way that ensures the sustainability of our environment. And also to do it in a way that ensures the Cook Islands gets a fair return from the minerals that it does have within its boundaries.
JM: Do you have any idea about what kind of return or how much you’re hoping that revenue might contribute to the economy?
MB: Well the assessments that have been done by scientists indicate minerals of significant tonnage in our seabed. And in certain areas they have a very high concentration. But they are valued in the billions and billions of dollars in terms of values of the minerals that are in these nodules. So it does have the potential to transform the country into being a very,very wealthy country. And in that regard we have to be I guess cautious in making sure that this, if it does eventuate, ahh the wealth from the minerals, we have to ensure that it is utilised properly to make sure that it protects future generations as well.
JM: Do you know what minerals you’re talking about here?
MB: The nodules are called polymetallic nodules and they consist of mineral elements that have cobalt, copper, nickel, manganese and a whole range of other metals. As well as components of the rare earth elements. These are from the latest assessment of samples that have been taken up from the deep that were sampled in organisations in the USA.
JM: What do you expect will be the biggest challenge over this three month period of open tendering?
MB: Oh,I don’t expect too many challenges coming through. It really about gathering more knowledge so that we’re able to make a more informed decision when we get to the stage of discussing exploitation.
JM: So is it a straight up kind of competitive process this tendering?
MB: Yes at this stage it is. I’m not expecting a great stampede of applications to come through but we’ll soon see what the level of interest will be.
Mark Brown says its taken five years for the Cook Islands to get to this point with the tendering process being run for the next three months by the Seabed Mining Authority.
Cooks Finance Minister: Seabed Mining Could Make Nation Rich
Tenders open on bids for exploratory licenses
Radio New Zealand International, via Pacific Islands Report
The Cook Islands Finance Minister says seabed mining has the potential to make the nation rich.
Tenders are now open for a period of four months, ending 11 December, for international companies to bid for exploratory licences within ten blocks of the country’s 2 millon square kilometre exclusive economic zone.
Mark Brown says scientific assessments so far indicate certain areas have very high concentrations of minerals such as cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese.
“They’re valued in the billions and billions of dollars in terms of the value of the minerals that are in these nodules. So it does have the potential to transform the country into being a very very wealthy country. And in that regard we have to be I guess cautious”.
Mark Brown says any wealth will have to be managed properly to protect future generations of Cook Islanders.