Category Archives: New Zealand

Massive blue whale population found in NZ proposed seabed mining area

A baby blue whale filmed nursing off the Taranaki coast observed by Leigh Torres and her crew last year was likely a world-first.

A baby blue whale filmed nursing off the Taranaki coast observed by Leigh Torres and her crew last year was likely a world-first.

Jeremy Wilkinson | Stuff NZ | February 22 2017

Blue whales – the world’s largest animal – have been found in abundant numbers in a proposed seabed mining area in Taranaki. 

Marine mammal expert Leigh Torres made a presentation to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in Wellington on Wednesday on the results of a recent survey in the South Taranaki Bight, which found a blue whale population of at least 68. 

The EPA is meeting to hear arguments for and against an application from miner Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to mine millions of tonnes of iron sands off the coast of Patea. TTRs first application was rejected in 2014.

Torres, a professor from Oregon State University professor who has carried out research in Taranaki waters in collaboration with the Department of Conservation, said seabed mining will have a severe impact on the whale population in the area.  

“The likely impacts of seabed mining are increased noise in the area, which could seriously affect the whales and their primary prey which is krill,” she said. 

“The mining will be noisy and whales’ hearing is crucial to them, they rely more on it than they do eyesight.

“But it’s the sediment created from uplifting the sand that could affect the krill which would in turn affect the whales feeding.”

Torres and her team observed 68 individual whales over 32 sightings during nine days this year, more than twice the number of whales they observed last year when they captured world-first footage of a calf feeding from its mother. 

Torres said that whales are generally seen by the scientific community as being migratory animals, but her study so far indicates that the population they’ve been following have made South Taranaki their home.

“All we really know for certain at this stage is that the South Taranaki Bight is very important to this population,” she said. 

“We’ve observed them surface-feeding but we also hear them through hydrophones calling to each other almost daily. So we know they’re there a lot of the time.”

Torres said the team had identified mating calls from males which indicated the whales were staying around to breed.

Although TTR has offered certain mitigation strategies to protect the whales, such as deploying its own hydrophones to monitor the population, Torres said it wasn’t enough.

“The evidence I’ve presented at the hearing supports the argument of the opposition to the mining,” she said. 

“But my own personal opinion is that the mining is not worth the risk to the whales.”

Oil and gas activities have operated with the Taranaki region for decades as New Zealand’s only oil-producing basin, but Torres feared the effects of adding mining to the mix could do cumulative damage. 

This is Trans Tasman Resource’s second application to the EPA to mine more than 50 million tonnes of iron-laden sand per year from a 66 square kilometre area off the coast of Patea. 

The company’s application was rejected in 2014 amid concerns of a lack of knowledge as to the environmental effects of their proposal. 

When they applied last year the EPA saw a record number of submissions flood in against the proposal – more than 17,000 – in an effort spearheaded by New Zealand anti-mining group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining. 


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NZ Forest & Bird warns of seabed mining risks to marine mammals

Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Scoop NZ | 16 February 2017

Forest & Bird is warning that the destructive practice of seabed mining would cause significant damage to the marine environment if allowed to proceed in the South Taranaki Bight.

The environmental organisation will be appearing at Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearings starting today, opposing the latest plans to mine for iron ore sand.

Trans Tasman Resources Limited (TTRL) has applied to undertake iron sand seabed mining in the region between South Taranaki and Golden Bay. The application area covers 65 km² of seabed, more than three times the size of Kapiti Island.

In their submission, Forest & Bird describe the significant damage that mining would cause to the seafloor, and to seabirds, fish and marine mammals.

“We know that the mining will have a significant impact on the seafloor and associated marine life, not just in the vast mine footprint, but on a much wider area due to suspended sediment plumes,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“But what is equally important is what we don’t know about the long term and cumulative impacts on the habitat of threatened and at risk species.”

Thirteen whales and dolphin species are known to use the South Taranaki Bight, and whale stranding records show that impacts on a much larger number of species should be considered.

TTRL has also failed to provide a thorough description of noise from their proposed operations, making it impossible to assess the impacts on whales and dolphins in the region.

“The South Taranaki Bight has been recognised as an important blue whale foraging ground, possibly one of only five known in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica,” says Mr Hague. The blue whale is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as internationally endangered.

“This is a terrible proposal, not just in terms of environmental impacts, but also due to the potential damage to the New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ reputation and tourist industry,” says Mr Hague.

A total of 13,733 submissions were received on this application, the highest number of submissions the EPA has received on any application since it was established in 2011.

“There is a huge amount of community feeling against this destructive practice,” says Mr Hague.

“We are urging the EPA to decline the application.”

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Strong opposition to NZ seabed mining proposal at EPA hearings


Kiwis Against Seabed Mining | Scoop NZ | February 15, 2017

When seabed mining hearings open in Wellington today, the strength of opposition will be apparent to the Environmental Protection Authority, said Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) today.

The EPA is hearing a renewed application by mining company Trans-Tasman Resources to dig up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year in a 66 sq. km section of the South Taranaki Bight – for 35 years. The EPA refused the company a consent in 2014. They have now re-applied.

“It is clear from the hearing schedule and the more than 13,500 individual submissions that there is little support for this proposal,” said Phil McCabe, KASM Chairperson.

“While the EPA has not released its analysis of the submissions as it did last time yet, it is clear that the vast majority of those who spoke out are against this destructive practice.”

There are three times as many submitters as for the first application.

Members of the public opposed to the application will gather outside the venue at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, when the hearings open.

Inside, the first day will see opening statements in opposition from KASM, whose lawyers will also represent Greenpeace, from almost the whole of the country’s fishing industry, including fishing giants Talley’s and the Maori Fisheries company Te Ohu Kaimoana, and from the Royal Forest & Bird Society and Origin Energy.

The strength of Maori opposition will be evident at the hearings in New Plymouth, the only venue outside Wellington, on 6 March.

“All the local Iwi are opposing this proposal. KASM has supported calls by the Iwi for hearings in the communities that would be most affected by the seabed mining.”

The process has been marked by extensive procedural wrangling. KASM late last year applied to the Environment Court to force release of crucial environmental information that had been withheld by the EPA. The Environment Court agreed, ordering release of the material.

“KASM will continue to fight for public participation,” said McCabe. “Most recently we objected strongly to the decision of the committee not to allow cross examination. If anything, in light of the fact that the EPA has turned down two applications, there should be more scrutiny than ever on this proposal.”

McCabe also slammed the Department of Conservation for refusing to make a submission, when, in the first application by Trans Tasman Resources in 2013, DOC made extensive submissions, particularly on the conditions for any consent, which was ultimately refused

“DOC has ditched its responsibility to protect the world’s most endangered dolphin, the Maui dolphin, despite the mine site being in its southern habitat. DOC’s lack of engagement in this process is shocking,” he said.

KASM experts will be giving evidence next week. These include:

• Blue whale expert Dr Leigh Torres (Tuesday February 21), who has been studying the presence and behaviour of blue whales in the South Taranaki Bight. Dr Torres is out in the Bight right now, on another research expedition where she is looking for confirmation of her theory that the Bight is not only a feeding ground for the blue whales, but could also be a breeding ground for a New Zealand-specific population. See her evidence here.

• Dr John Cockrem of Massey University (Wednesday February 22), one of the country’s leading experts in the little penguin – Korora, or Blue Penguin – whose populations are in decline. The plume from the seabed mining could affect the food and feeding grounds of these birds, and others. See his evidence here.

• Economist Jim Binney (Thursday 23 February) has challenged the methodology Trans-Tasman Resources has used to extrapolate its economic benefits and job creation from the proposal. He argues they should have used the Treasury’s recommended cost benefit analysis methodology and that they should have valued environmental and social costs. See his evidence here.

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Iwi criticises lack of notice by NZ EPA of ironsand mining application hui


Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore from a 66-square kilometre area off the South Taranaki coast.

Stuff NZ | February 10 2017

Taranaki iwi say they were not given enough notice of a conference being held today ahead of a hearing on plans to mine millions of tonnes of iron-laden sand off the southern Taranaki coast.

More than 13,733 submissions have been received over Trans-Tasman Resources’ (TTR) bid to mine the seabed off Patea.

Next Thursday the Environmental Protection Agency will begin its hearing on the application in Wellington.

Today, Friday, the EPA is holding a pre-hearing conference at the Westpac Stadium – but iwi say they only had a week’s notice as the hearing was announced on an EPA website the day the long Waitangi Day weekend began.

“Announcing a hui to consider critical matters of the hearing process with only a week’s notice, requiring RSVP only two working days later, speaks volumes to the very concerns iwi and others in the South Taranaki community have about the EPA process,” Kaitumuaki Cassandra Crowley, of Te Korowai o Ngāruahine Trust, said.

She said iwi found out about the pre-hearing conference while searching for updates on the application.

“At such short notice, it is difficult for iwi and many other Taranaki community-based submitters and individuals to attend a hui in Wellington.”

Crowley said critical technical submissions would be determined at the conference.

The iwi questioned whether the EPA had sufficient resources to properly assess the application, she said.

They also wanted to know why hearings were being held away from the affected area and where the most affected people were based.

EPA principal communications advisor Helen Corrigan said the EPA did have sufficient resources to process the TTR application.

She said the decision-making committee advised on February 3 that a pre-hearing conference would be held on February 10  at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

This was posted on the EPA’s website on February 3 and all submitters and the applicant were notified the same day.

Submitters who indicated in their submission they could receive electronic correspondence were emailed on February 3 and submitters who had indicated in their submission they could not receive electronic correspondence were sent a letter on the same day.

TTR first lodged an application to mine off the South Taranaki coastline in 2013. This was subsequently rejected by the EPA.

The current application was lodged last year and, like the original application, has been met by strong opposition within South Taranaki.

Local iwi Ngāruahine, Ngaa Rauru and Ngāti Ruanui have expressed concerns about the EPA process throughout the latest application.

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Outrage over limited hearing locations for NZ seabed mining decision

Nga Rauru Kitahi general manager Anne-Marie Broughton compared the hearing locations to tactics employed against Maori in the 1800s.

Nga Rauru Kitahi general manager Anne-Marie Broughton compared the hearing locations to tactics employed against Maori in the 1800s.

Jeremy Wilkinson  | Stuff NZ | January 25 2017

Hearings which will decide whether a company can mine the seabed off the coast of Taranaki will only be held in two locations – to the outrage of opposition groups. 

Trans Tasman Resources has applied for the second time in as many years to mine ore from sand 36 kilometres off the coast of Patea. A previous, similar application was denied in 2014. 

The Environmental Protection Authority will host hearings in New Plymouth and Wellington in mid-February, but Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (Kasm) is arguing that opposition to the mining is far more widespread and hearing locations should be tailored to reflect that. 

Nagti Ruanui, the other iwi whose territory TTR has applied to mine iron sand in, protested at parliament in late 2016.

Nagti Ruanui, the other iwi whose territory TTR has applied to mine iron sand in, protested at parliament in late 2016.

“When the authority held their hearings last time around there were hearings in Hamilton and Whanganui so people all over the country could at least make one,” Kasm’s secretary Cindy Baxter said. 

Baxter said of the more than 4000 people that submitted through Kasm, 118 were in Raglan, 65 in Auckland, 38 in Whanganui and 26 in New Plymouth.

“Where they’re holding hearings doesn’t reflect where the majority of submissions are coming from,” she said. 

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast where Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast where Trans Tasman Resources have applied to mine iron ore.

“They’ve said people can Skype in to the hearings, but that’s not really the same thing.”

As for why people from all over the country have submitted against TTR and want to be heard at the hearings, Baxter said it was the precedent the proposed mining activity would set. 

“It’s the black sand that links us,” she said. 

“People are very protective of it. That’s how I got involved with Kasm, because I live at a black sand beach in Piha and I was worried once they were done with Taranaki they would move north.”

Kasm estimated that more than 17,000 people had submitted against TTR’s latest application, a number later confirmed by the Environmental Protection Authority as 13,733 total submissions – with those for and against yet to be confirmed. 

This was the highest number of submissions the EPA has ever received on any application since it was established in 2011. The second highest being 4850 submissions on TTR’s similar application in 2014. 

It’s not just Kasm that is unhappy with the decision. Nga Rauru Kitahi – one of the iwi which TTR’s proposed mining activities will affect – has said the decision to not hold hearings within the territory of tangata whenua was “appalling”.

“It’s a serious insult to not hold hearings on one of Ngati Ruanui or Nga Rauru Kitahi marae or at an absolute minimum, within one of our rohe (territory),” Nga Rauru Kitahi’s general manager Anne-Marie Broughton said. 

She compared the the decision to “behaviour deployed on Maori in the 1800s when the Native Land Court convened sittings regarding Maori land in distant locations creating barriers of time and cost to owners”.

“Consequently, many Maori owners were unable to attend court hearings, resulting in the loss of their lands.”

Broughton said it was appalling that this behaviour was continuing in 2017.

The hearing will begin in the Member’s Lounge in Westpac Stadium, Wellington, at 9am on February 16. 

Dates and times for the New Plymouth hearings have yet to be confirmed. 

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13,700 have a say on NZ seabed mining application


Wanganui Chronicle | 17 January 2017

Environmental Protection Authority staff have finished counting all the submissions made on Trans-Tasman Resources’ applications to mine the South Taranaki seabed for ironsand.

There are 13,733 submissions, now listed alphabetically on the authority’s website, but not yet analysed.

A note from the authority says the Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui submission included a petition. Its signatories were not counted as individual submitters.

It also says some submitters did not include all the information required on the authority’s online submission form. In some cases the need for that information has been waived, and those submissions will be considered.

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NZ Seabed mining opponents want a say

Rochelle Bullock, left, liaises with Phil McCabe and Wanda Barker from Kiwis Again Seabed Mining

Rochelle Bullock, left, liaises with Phil McCabe and Wanda Barker from Kiwis Again Seabed Mining

Laurel Stowell | Wanganui Chronicle | January 11, 2017

The Environmental Protection Authority has failed on two counts in the lead-up to hearings on Trans-Tasman Resources’ application to mine the South Taranaki seabed, Rochelle Bullock says.

Trans-Tasman Resources wants marine consents to mine nearly 66 square kilometres of seabed offshore from Patea. Hearings on the matter begin next month.

Ms Bullock liaised between opponent groups during Trans-Tasman Resources’ (TTR’s) last applications in 2013 and is doing so again. Opponents include iwi from the region, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and others.

The authority (EPA) has failed to keep in touch with submitters and also failed to hold hearings in the places where most of those who want to speak live, Ms Bullock claims.

Anyone who wants to speak during the hearings must contact the EPA before noon today to let it know. Otherwise they will not be able to speak.

Ms Bullock said that last time all the submitters were warned of the deadline by email, but that hasn’t happened this time. She was desperately trying to get the word out yesterday.

She also said it was not logical or ethical to hold hearings only in Wellington and New Plymouth. Submitters had asked for hearings in the places that would be most affected by the mining – from Patea south toward Whanganui.

Hearings for TTR’s first application were held in several places in 2013, including Pariroa Marae near Kakaramea and at the Wanganui District Council.

KASM says there have been 17,000 submissions to the applications. A spokeswoman for the EPA could not confirm this, saying as they were still being counted.

The “highest density” of people who wanted to speak at the hearings was in Whanganui, Ms Bullock said. The EPA could not confirm that either.

When Ms Bullock rang the EPA to ask why the hearings would only be in Wellington and New Plymouth, she was told those locations were more accessible and had venues.

She told the staff member there was no lack of venues in Whanganui. “It’s very unfair to expect a whole community to travel to Wellington or New Plymouth. [The hearings] should be held in the place of the people directly affected. There seems something very obviously wrong when you choose not to go to the people that are submitting,” she said.

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