Category Archives: New Zealand

Te Atiawa and Taranaki Iwi fundamentally opposed to seabed mining activity

In addition to endangered Māui dolphins, other marine mammals, including fur seals, common dolphins, and orcas (killer whales) can be found in the Marine Park boundaries.

Te Atiawi iwi | 13 July 2018

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust and Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust are fundamentally opposed to seabed mining activities within their tribal rohe.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust and Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust were notified of the exploration permit application by Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd in 2016 and each iwi made a submission opposing the application back in September 2016.

Both Iwi organisations were informed of the granting of the permit on 8 June 2018, a month after the permit had been granted by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals on 8 May 2018.

Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa Trust Chairperson Liana Poutu is concerned that the permit area includes a Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

“The permit has been granted inside a Marine Mammal Sanctuary which is administered and managed by the Department of Conservation.

“We find it difficult to understand how one arm of government, New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, can cut across another arm of government and make these kinds of decisions without engagement on the issue.

“The permit area also sits inside a mineral mining exclusion zone, so although it’s only exploration at this stage the implication is that if exploration is successful there is an expectation that a mining permit will be granted in an area that excludes this activity.

“Fundamentally, the iwi and hapū of Te Atiawa are opposed to this activity,” she says.

Te Kāhui o Taranaki Trust Chairperson Leanne Horo says that the protection of our environment is a focus for Taranaki Iwi.

“Taranaki Iwi’s focus is on protecting, enhancing and sustaining the mouri of Tangaroa ki Tai.

“The Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Island Marine Protected Area and Tapuae Marine Reserve sit within the Te Atiawa tribal rohe and our Taranaki Iwi tribal rohe so it’s concerning to us that the permit has been granted in close proximity to these areas.

“We are launching our environmental management plan, Taiao Taiora, in the coming week which outlines our position on environmental issues.

“Taranaki Iwi is fundamentally opposed to any new mining or prospecting activity taking place within our rohe,” she says.

The permit area at its closest is 2.8km from shore, and sits almost entirely in the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary established in 2008. The permit area at its closest is 0.45km from the Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Island Marine Protected Area and at its closest is 1km from the Tapuae Marine Reserve. The permit area overlaps the Mineral Mining Exclusion Zone in two places.

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Seabed mining concerns taken to United Nations

Kataraina Graham, 2, was part of the Ngati Ruanui seabed mining protest at Castlecliff in September 2017. Photo Bevan Conley.

Simon Waters | Wanganui Chronicle | 27 June 2018

Ngā Rauru is taking its concerns about proposed seabed mining in the South Taranaki Bight to the United Nations.

Te Kaahui o Rauru board member Te Huia Bill Hamilton will present them to the United Nations’ Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He heads to Geneva for the five-day conference this month and will be representing the National Iwi Chairs’ Forum.

Consent given for the mining breaches International Human Rights Law and marginalises the iwi’s views, he said.

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New Zealand’s blue whales under threat from seafloor mining

SCUBA News |  23 May 2018

A group of blue whales that frequent the South Taranaki Bight between the North and South islands of New Zealand appears to be part of a local population that is genetically distinct from other blue whales in the Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean, a new study has found.

Hydrophones deployed in the region recorded blue whale calls on 99.7 percent of the days between January and December in 2016.

“There is no doubt that New Zealand blue whales are genetically distinct, but we’re still not certain about how many of them there are,” researcher Dawn Barlow commented. “We have generated a minimum abundance estimate of 718, and we also were able to document eight individuals that we re-sighted in multiple years in New Zealand waters, including one whale seen in three of the four years with a different calf each time, and many others we saw at least once.”

The study, led by Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, is important because the South Taranaki Bight has several oil and gas extraction rigs and the New Zealand government recently issued its first permit for mining the seafloor there for iron sands. Churning up the sand could muddy the sea and disrupt the natural food chain. The sand will be sucked up to a floating production vessel, the valuable iron content removed and shipped away for further processing while the sandy remains are pumped back to the seabed.

The blue whales found off New Zealand are not quite as large as Antarctic blue whales, which scientists believe to be the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. Antarctic blues, when they reach adulthood, can range from 28 to 30 meters in length (nearly 100 feet). The other blue whales, though slightly smaller, are still formidable at about 22 meters in length (or 72 feet).

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NZ Scientists to simulate controversial seabed mining effects

The Chatham Rise is home to an abundance of seafloor species. Trawling operations and seabed mining proposals there have been controversial. (Photo / File)

Jamie Morton | NZ Herald | 7 May 2018

Kiwi scientists investigating the impacts of controversial seabed mining are about to simulate the effects themselves, in one of the most challenging underwater experiments Niwa [National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research] has ever attempted.

Only two seabed ventures have ever been developed in New Zealand and both have been met with staunch opposition.

That was amid concern the operations would disturb sea life at their operation sites – and more widely through drifting plumes of sediment and other environmental effects.

In an MBIE-funded effort to learn more about the impacts, scientists will deploy at least nine high-tech instruments on the seabed on the Chatham Rise – the area off the Canterbury coast where one company has plans to mine phosphate.

Among the equipment, to be placed in water 500m deep, is an underwater glider, three undersea observational platforms known as “benthic landers”, a multi-corer to take sediment samples, seabed moorings, water column sampling equipment, an underwater camera that will be towed above the seafloor and a “benthic disturber”.

The dispersal of the plume will then be monitored, and surveys before and after the disturbance will measure the effects on the seabed animals.

Voyage leader and Niwa principal scientist Dr Malcolm Clark said some of the equipment has not been tried before in this situation and deploying so many instruments at once was “extraordinarily complex”.

“However, this is very important work that will enable us to provide information about the nature and extent of impacts associated with human activities in the deep sea and the level of resilience of the organisms living there.”

The data collected will be used to build up a picture of how the biological communities on the seabed may be affected by the sediment stirred up by mining, as well as bottom-trawl fishing.

Uncertainty about the effects of sediment plumes had contributed to applications for seabed mining being declined – and the plumes were also a big environmental concern for sustainable fisheries certification.

Niwa’s research vessel Tangaroa will lead the expedition. Photo / File

“These activities create plumes of sediment but we don’t know how the sediment affects seabed life as it settles again on the seafloor, and how much deep-sea animals can withstand,” Clark said.

“We are doing this experiment on a small scale on the Chatham Rise but it will give us a much better idea of how environmental managers and industry can work to mitigate larger-scale disturbance effects.”

The benthic disturber was about 4.5m-long and 2.4m-wide and contained a pump that mixed sediment with water and turned it into a slurry as it was towed along.

The slurry was then pumped out a central chimney to create the plume, which would be tracked and monitored as it drifted and dispersed through the ocean. It was estimated the disturbance would take place over about half a square kilometre of seabed.

The benthic landers, which have been built by Niwa and not yet used at sea, would carry a variety of high-definition cameras, lights and instruments to record physical, chemical and biological activity.

Niwa’s ocean glider and a modified acoustic towfish would follow research vessel Tangaroa, measuring turbidity and the density of the plume, while water samples from inside and outside the plume will be collected.

A towed camera would also record high-definition still images and video of the seafloor, which would be sampled by small coring and sled equipment.

Three seabed moorings were also being installed at an undisturbed control site, where they would remain for a year.

The information they record would be used for comparison with the disturbed area.

A lab-based programme would run alongside the work at sea that will provide further information on the resilience of the seabed ecosystem.

The research team planned to collect live sponges and corals and bring them back to a Niwa laboratory, where their resilience to various sediment loads will be tested.

“We will compare the measurements taken during the Chatham Rise disturbance experiment with a controlled experiment in the lab, which may be able to tell us the tipping point at which these communities either cope well or are significantly impacted,” Clark said.

“The field and laboratory studies together will be a powerful combination to address when too much sediment is ecologically significant.”

The collaborative project was the first of three surveys, with the monitoring to be repeated next year and in 2020 to measure longer-term effects and potential recovery of seabed communities.

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NZ seabed iron sand mining decision reserved

Opponents of seabed iron sand mining gathered more than 6000 signatures on a petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 19 2018

The finely balanced decision to consent to seabed mining of iron sand might have swung the other way if the decision makers had properly considered some factors, a lawyer says.

Eleven parties have appealed against the consents that were granted last August to Trans-Tasman Resources Ltd.

The appeal hearing in the High Court at Wellington wrapped up on Thursday with Justice Peter Churchman reserving his decision.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast (shown in dark green) where Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine iron ore.

The final speaker was Davey Salmon, a lawyer for Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, who said the consent decision had been as finally balanced as it was possible to be.

The Environmental Protection Authority had appointed a four-person decision making committee.

When the committee was deadlocked the chairman had the deciding vote, so even though members of the committee were split two against two, the outcome was that the consents were granted.

Salmon said the committee did not have enough information on which to make its decision, and did not give proper weight to issues that counted against allowing seabed mining.

The committee chairman had a legal obligation to exercise the casting vote favouring caution, and exercise caution where information was lacking, he said.

Trans-Tasman Resources’ lawyer, Justin Smith, QC, said it was unlikely the chairman was meant to change his vote because another committee member disagreed with him.

Even if the judge found against Trans-Tasman Resources on one or more points, it did not mean the decision had to be quashed, Smith said. He asked for a further hearing to discuss the consequences, if the judge intended to allow the appeal.

The lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said the two members who granted the consents had not grappled with a key problem.

The seabed that was to be mined was in the exclusive economic zone off the south Taranaki coast, up to the boundary of the coastal marine area, closer to shore, which came under resource management rules.

Mining would create a significant sediment plume that would spread into the coastal marine area where it was prohibited, Cooke said.

Trans-Tasman Resources said the marine consent and marine discharge consent it was granted were enough to allow mining to proceed, but the opponents said resource consent was also needed.

Regardless of that issue, it was already signalled that whichever way the judge decided, the outcome was likely to be appealed.

The committee granted the 35-year consents subject to conditions, including that two years of monitoring had to take place before Trans-Tasman Resources was allowed to begin mining up to 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year to extract iron ore for export.

A remote-controlled dredge would vacuum sand from the sea bed in depths between about 20 metres and 42m, to a processing ship. The dredging was planned in an area 22 kilometres to 36km offshore from Patea.

It was planned that about 90 per cent of the material would be returned to the sea. Opponents said the noise and sediment plume would cause fish to avoid the area, and would result in long term, if not permanent, damage to the environment and cultural concerns of Māori.

The company said the area was already intensively fished, had gas and oil installations, and was a rugged environment subject to naturally occurring sediment flows from rivers.

Taranaki iwi Ngāti Ruanui, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, along with Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, and Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, appealed against the consents.

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Taranaki iron sand seabed mining consent reduced Māori interest to lip service, court told

Ngati Ruanui iwi went to Parliament to voice its protest against the Trans-Tasman Resources’ plans to mine iron sand off the Taranaki coast. (File photo: Monique Ford)

Stuff | April 16 2018

Māori interests were not properly considered in the decision to allow iron sand seabed mining off Taranaki, a court has been told.

They went to the High Court at Wellington on Monday seeking to overturn environmental permission for the project.

A lawyer for Māori and fishing interests, Francis Cooke, QC, said as far as they were aware this was a world first for deep sea iron sand mining to be allowed to be undertaken.

Ngati Ruanui protested against Trans-Tasman Resources’ bid for marine consent to mine the seabed for iron sand. More than 6000 people signed the petition calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. (File photo: Monique Ford)

The permission, though, had split the Environmental Protection Authority decision making committee, and the outcome depended on the chairman’s vote.

Cooke said the majority decision of the committee had reduced to an “interpretive gloss” the strongly-worded direction to take into account the interests of Māori, and give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Instead the interests of Māori could be said to be reduced to lip service, he said.

The highest concentration of suspended sediment would occur in coastal marine area offshore from the Ngāti Ruanui district, and fish were expected to avoid the area, with severe effect on seabed life within 2km of the operation, and moderate effects up to 15km of the mining area.

Cooke said an earlier decision for the same activity, the same parties, in the same area had been declined, on different evidence. One of the later committee’s alleged errors was not taking into account the first decision to decline the application.

Even the committee that gave consent described some of the effects as perhaps being catastrophic from Trans-Tasman Resources’ mining, Cooke said.

The company has allegedly spent about $80 million preparing for the mining.

The decision making committee said that when extraction finally ended the effects would be long term, but not permanent.

Cooke said the committee appeared to have applied a standard that allowed the environment to be harmed provided it ultimately recovered.

It had misunderstood, and misapplied the law, he said. The committee never identified the standard against which it judged the environmental effect.

At the start of Monday’s hearing some members of the public could not find seats in the crowded courtroom and had to listen to proceedings via a link to a court foyer.

In August, the authority’s committee granted Trans-Tasman Resources 35-year marine and discharge consents to annually mine up to 50 million tonnes of iron sand in the South Taranaki Bight.

A remote-controlled dredge will vacuum sand from the sea bed between depths of 20 metres and 42m, at a rate of 8000 tonnes an hour, to a processing ship. The dredging is earmarked in an area 22 kilometres to 36km off the coastline from Patea.

The decision committee said the company proposed extracting seabed material and processing it on a vessel. Approximately 10 per cent of the material would be processed into iron ore concentrate and the rest would be discharged to the seabed. It was expected much of the concentrate would be sent to China for steel making.

Taranaki iwi, Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Cloudy Bay Clams, the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management Company, Talleys Group, Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd, and Trustees of Te Kaahui o Rauru, have appealed against the authority’s approval.

Trans-Tasman Resources is supporting the committee’s decision.

The hearing is expected to take about a week.

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Kiwis Against Seabed Mining promises to take case to Supreme Court if necessary

KASM chairwoman Cindy Baxter says the previous government’s support for the iron sands project was “very clear’ to the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo: Pullar-Strecker

Tom Pullar-Strecker | Stuff | April 16 2018

One of the lobby groups fighting a decision to approve iron sands mining off the Taranaki coast says it is prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in August approved an application by miner Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) to dredge a billion tonnes of iron sands from the South Taranaki Bight, in a split decision that swung on committee chairman Alick Shaw’s casting vote.

A total of 11 groups with environmental, fishing and Maori interests are appealing the decision at the High Court in Wellington. They are concerned about issues such as the plume from waste material that will be returned to the seabed.

Some have also warned the project would set a precedent for seabed mining elsewhere in New Zealand waters and beyond. 

Cindy Baxter, chairwoman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) – speaking outside the High Court before proceedings began –  said it was very clear the former National government supported the mining venture. 

She believed that had not been lost on the EPA, which is an independent body.

“The Government changed the legislation to make it easier for it to get through and Callaghan Innovation suddenly gave TTR a big grant when it wasn’t even a New Zealand company,” she said.

The 66 square kilometres off the South Taranaki coast (shown in dark green) where Trans Tasman Resources has applied to mine iron ore.

“This is a company that brought 35 per cent of its shares across from Holland three weeks before its application so it could claim it was a Kiwi company.”

Baxter said she couldn’t say whether the EPA was influenced by the former government’s support for the venture. But “it certainly got that message” and the process it had gone through to approve the mining application was flawed, she said.

Even so, two of the commissioners still voted to reject the mining application, issuing a “strongly dissenting opinion”, she noted.

Baxter said she believed the new government was trying to be “hands off” and was waiting for the outcome of the court challenge.

“I think they are letting the legal process go through. They don’t really want to talk to us about it at the moment – although certainly the Green Party does.”   

Baxter said KASM was prepared to take the court challenge as far as it needed to.

“If we have to, we will take it to the Supreme Court. This is a precedent-setting case. 

“It is the first seabed mining application that has been approved in New Zealand and it would open the flood gates for others around the country.” 

Opponents of the Taranaki iron sands project gather outside the High Court. Photo: Pullar-Strecker

TTR has been contacted for comment. It has previously said the Taranaki Iron Sands project would be “a sustainable and world leading development” that would have little environmental effect and directly employ 463 people, generating about $7 million of royalties for the Crown.

Baxter said seabed mining was basically new internationally, though diamond giant De Beers has vacuumed diamonds from 6000 square kilometres of sea floor off the coast of Namibia.

There are proposals to mine a large area about 500 miles south-east of Hawaii called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone which Japanese scientists are reported to estimate contains up to 100 billion metric tons of rare-earth deposits.

Southern Cross Cable, which has surveyed a route for a new internet cable between New Zealand, Australia and the United States, has been re-surveying its route to avoid that mining zone.

Greenpeace campaigner Michael Smith said the South Taranaki Bight was a “vital ecosystem” that was home to endangered blue whales and Maui dolphins.

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