Category Archives: Pacific region

Second Wave Due Diligence: The Case for Incorporating Free, Prior, and Informed Consent into the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime

A new article, Second Wave Due Diligence, published in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal calls for the norm of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) for indigenous peoples to be applied to deep sea mining (DSM) projects carried out in the international seabed, particularly in the Pacific region, where numerous indigenous communities stand to be directly and disproportionately impacted by this new extractive industry.

Authors Julian Aguon and Julie Hunter’s argument, while novel, relies on core prescriptions of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requiring compliance with international law in general, including pertinent rules of international environmental and indigenous rights law.

UNCLOS’s clear parameters on the prevention of harm to the marine environment, expounded upon by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in a series of key decisions, have created a due diligence standard that is imposing ever higher duties on an increasingly wide range of actors, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

This standard is evolving alongside a robust norm requiring the FPIC of indigenous peoples threatened by large-scale extractive activities, even if those activities are not directly carried out on indigenous land.

When applied to DSM, whose exploratory stage has already resulted in an array of adverse impacts to Pacific indigenous peoples, these normative legal developments coalesce into a compelling argument for placing impacted indigenous peoples into key decision-making roles.

Such an approach, which is called a “second wave” of due diligence, represents a decisive break from a destructive history in which the Pacific served as a proving ground for the experiments of others, and a concrete step toward sustainable, rights-based development in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Download: Second Wave Due Diligence

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ISA and United Nations selling experimental seabed mining to Pacific island governments

A bulk-cutter designer for seabed mining

How can efforts to ’conserve and sustainably use the oceans’ be so seamlessly co-opted as a cover for efforts to promote the mining of the seabed?

Unfortunately international agencies like the UN are masters are such deceits and have no regard for the views of Pacific Island people who are vehemently opposed to the exploitation of the seabed…

Pacific small island developing states capacity building on deep seabed mining

International Seabed Mining | 7 February 2019

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) will hold a regional training and capacity building workshop for Pacific Small Island Developing States (P-SIDS) on deep seabed mining in Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga, from 12 to 14 February 2019. 

The workshop is being held as part of the joint ISA-UNDESA ‘Abyssal initiative for Blue Growth,’ one of the seven Voluntary Commitments made by ISA at the UN Ocean Conference in 2017 to advance implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources  (#OceanAction16538).

High-level representatives from P-SIDS and experts in deep seabed mining and marine science will gather at the workshop to discuss the potential benefits [but not the potential impacts] of increased participation of P-SIDS in deep-sea related activities, and how to ensure that the people in the region will fully benefit from such activities. 

Held over three-days, the workshop will feature sessions on: the status of deep seabed mining activities in the Pacific; the roles and responsibilities of sponsoring States; the legal regime for marine scientific research and environmental management of resources. It is also envisaged that through this workshop, it will be possible to identify better the specific capacity-building needs of P-SIDS in regards to deep seabed mineral related activities.

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Call for Cooks’ seabed mining licences to require risk research

Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society. Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

Radio New Zealand | 21 November 2018 

The Cook Islands government must focus as much on the potential environmental risks of seabed mining as it does on the economic benefits, an environmental organisation says.

In recent weeks, the government has been holding public meetings to hear feedback on its plan to open tenders for five-year, deep sea mining exploration licences at the beginning of next year.

Kelvin Passfield of the Te Ipukarea Society said little was known about the biodiversity in the exploration area.

Environmental research should be included in exploration operations, Mr Passmore said.

“We would like to see at least an equal emphasis on the biodiversity and the potential environmental impacts on that biodiversity,” he said.

“So we would like to see any exploration licence having a condition that there must be a partner in that exploration programme of a research institution.”

The Cook Islands News reported that Deputy Pm Mark Brown as saying the government was only concerned with exploration at this point.

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Deep sea mining zone hosts CO2-consuming bacteria, scientists discover

phys.org | November 20, 2018

Scientists have discovered that bacteria in the deepest parts of the seafloor are absorbing carbon dioxide and could be turning themselves into an additional food source for other deep-sea life.

Bacteria living 4000m below the ocean surface in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) are consuming carbon dioxide and turning it into biomass, a new study shows.

Until now, scientists believed the main source of biomass on the seafloor was the organic matter that floated down towards the depths: dead fish, plankton and other detritus.

Prof. Andrew K. Sweetman from the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said:

“We have recently made two major findings.

“In contrast to similar studies in the north Atlantic Ocean, we found that bacteria and not seafloor animals were the most important organisms consuming organic detritus that floats down towards the ocean floor.  

“We also discovered that benthic bacteria are taking up large amounts of carbon dioxide and assimilating it into their biomass through an unknown process. This was completely unexpected.

“Their biomass then potentially becomes a food source for other animals in the deep sea, so actually what we’ve discovered is a potential alternative food source in the deepest parts of the ocean, where we thought there was none.  

“If we upscale our results to the global ocean, our findings reveal that 200 million tonnes of CO2  could be fixed into biomass each year by this process.

“This equates to approximately 10% of the CO2 that the oceans remove each year, so it’s possibly an important part of the deep-sea carbon cycle.

“We found the same activity at multiple study sites separated by hundreds of kilometres, so we can reasonably assume this is happening on the seabed in the eastern CCFZ and possibly across the entire CCFZ.”

The CCFZ is a prime area of interest for future seabed (polymetallic nodule) mining. Sixteen contractors from countries like the UK, Germany, France and Korea have claimed exploration rights in this region, and have begun conducting surveys to gather baseline data on biodiversity and genetic connectivity across their claim areas.

Dr Sweetman is calling for the International Seabed Authority to ensure contractors in this area will implement carbon cycling monitoring as well as biodiversity and genetic studies.

Sweetman said:

“If mining proceeds in the CCFZ, it will significantly disturb the seafloor environment.

“Just four experiments similar to ours have been conducted in situ in the abyssal regions of the oceans; we need to know much more about abyssal seafloor biology and ecology before we even consider mining the region.

“The full-scale mining proposed in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone could significantly impact benthic ecosystems for decades, perhaps even longer.

“Now that we have shown that novel carbon cycling processes are happening on the seafloor in this region, which may be very significant in terms of the carbon cycle, authorities should insist that hopeful mining contractors study these  processes in baseline surveys, impact assessments and monitoring, so that mining-related changes in this important ecosystem process can be identified and tracked.”

The findings were published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

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Deep sea mining: Riches or ruin?

The OK Tedi gold mine, which caused huge environmental problems in New Guinea, is an example of how mining can go horribly wrong, a letter-writer says.

Letter to the Editor | Cook Island News | November 19, 2018

The government is in raptures as they prepare for a bonanza of riches that they hope will flow from deep sea mining in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ).fish

Before matters proceed to the point of no return, we the Iti Tangata need to ask whether mining will lead to riches or to our ruin.

Should we allow our Government to jeopardise the main industry of our country that is the backbone of our national economy? Does anyone really think that paying guests will come to a destination that has been polluted from the byproduct of mining, if it were to go ahead?

Word is that government is so keen, that they are in the process of trying to water down the Marae Moana Act in order to take away some of the protections in relation to environment impact assessments. Being so secretive about the proposed changes, which the public are not allowed to view until the Amendments have had a first reading in Parliament, does little to dispel that impression.

Right now, our visitors pay good money to come to our tiny Ipukarea to experience the beauty of the environment on land, lagoon and ocean and to enjoy the holiday of their dreams before heading back to their own homes. They came here for the clean air, the green hills and flowers and immaculate gardens and the beautiful lagoons and friendly people to host them and while doing so, they generate more than $200 million annually to our local economy.

Does anyone really think that paying guests will come to a destination that has been polluted from the byproduct of mining – if it were to go ahead? Of course not, they will go elsewhere.

Actually, I am not necessarily a fan of tourism. That seems to have gone into overdrive in the past couple of years and seems to have created a certain level of environment and infrastructure issues of its own. These include periodic shortages of water supply in parts of the island, an inadequate septic system – and of course, our roads could do with a bit of an upgrade.

However, those issues are being addressed albeit with mixed results thus far, but will fade into the background in comparison to the irreparable damage to our ocean environment and leisure industry that a high-risk industry such as mining would cause.

Honestly, can the advocates of mining point to a place anywhere in the world where mining has not polluted the surrounding environment?

Nope?

But there are plenty of instances about the adverse effects of mining. Papua New Guinea, one of our Pacific neighbours, has had its fair share of horror stories in relation to mining.

There was, for instance, the notorious case of the OK-Tedi gold mine in PNG where the toxic by-product of the process of extracting the gold were released into the OK Tedi and Fly rivers and poisoned the water and killed all the fish. (By the way, the by-product is arsenic for those who are wondering).

After a media campaign in Australia to expose the malpractice of the mining company and a court case against them for their misdeeds, the mining giant negotiated to pay a tiny fraction of the costs to remediate the environmental damage and eventually walked away from the mine. PNG was left to deal with the mess the mining company left behind.

There are other case, but the point is that mining companies have very deep pockets to retain the highest paid legal minds from anywhere in the world to defend their position, while our Government has the services of the Commissioner and Crown Law. In a battle between global giants vs idealistic local lawyers, it is not going to end well for us.

One last point: even if the nodules are worth zillions of dollars – which is uncertain – the Government will only receive a tiny percentage of the value via royalty payments.

It is rather like our tuna fishing industry, where tuna is sold at $20-30 per kilo, but that Marine Resources have signed away for a few cents per kilo. Enough said.

The byproduct from deep sea mining of our nodules will be  the huge amount of “plume” of the muck that constitutes the seafloor.

Apparently the nodules will be either scooped up or vacuumed upward and then the seawater will be released back to the ocean.

How to return vast quantities of dirty water to the ocean without causing an environmental disaster sounds like mission impossible to me.

The upside is that the byproduct will not be arsenic, as with the OK Tedi case.

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China takes baby steps in the bottom of the Mariana Trench

The chubby, fish-like Qianlong-2 submersible is lowered from its mother vessel prior to a dive in the Indian Ocean. Photo- Xinhua.jpg

According to China’s oceanic authority, the next step for the country’s deep-sea technology is developing and testing a drilling facility named Shenlong, plus a mining platform named Kunlong and an information-sharing system called Yunlong.

Asia Times | October 22, 2018

China is getting closer to exploring the bottom of the ocean after a research mission deep in the Mariana Trench, the largest crack in the Earth’s surface that is more than 10 kilometers deep in the Pacific Ocean.

China’s oceanic research vessel Tansuo-1 returned to its home port of Sanya in southern China’s Hainan province last week, wrapping up a 54-day, 7,292-nautical-mile deep-sea research mission.

During the mission a team of 59 researchers remotely piloted and grabbed some close-up looks into the Mariana Trench.

Researchers from the Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences tested deep-sea equipment for geophysics, marine geology, geochemistry and marine biology.

Deep sea exploration vessel the Tansuo-1. Photo: Xinhua

During the expedition, two 7,000-meter-class deep-sea gliders operated continuously for 46 days, making it the only abyss-class glider in the world proven to be able to work continuously for an extended period of time under the sea.

A magnesium seawater fuel cell carried out two tests as the world’s first new metal seawater fuel cell tested in the 10,000-meter abyss. In addition, researchers also used a remote-controlled robot to complete high-definition live-streaming 10,000 meters down near the bottom of the trench.

Earlier this year, Chinese media reported the development of underwater platforms to be launched after 2020 to take samples on the bottom of the South China Sea, as well as plans to probe the Mariana Trench.

The People’s Daily has reported that China’s most advanced manned submersible, the Jiaolong, or “flood dragon” in Mandarin, was undergoing a retrofit at the National Deep Sea Center in the eastern coastal city of Qingdao.

Its next dive will be in the deepest part of the South China Sea, a central basin with an average depth of five kilometers. The Jiaolong can dive up to seven kilometers deep.

The launch of the Jiaolong is a landmark in China’s deep-sea exploration as scientists will be able to reach the sea floor for a closer look and complete refined sampling missions.

China is also developing a manned submersible that can dive to 11km and withstand the immense pressure with its sea trial scheduled in 2021, to “scour the bottom of the 11,034-meter-deep Mariana Trench,” according to the People’s Daily.

In April last year, the Jiaolong finished three dives in the South China Sea. It normally carries three people, a pilot and two scientists.

A dive usually starts around 7am and takes 10 hours. The three people inside can only move in a round, cramped space that has a diameter of 1.4 meters, said Gao Xiang, a senior engineer at the center.

According to China’s oceanic authority, the next step for the country’s deep-sea technology is developing and testing a drilling facility named Shenlong, plus a mining platform named Kunlong and an information-sharing system called Yunlong.

This equipment is expected to be finalized in 2020 and put into the South China Sea sometime after that.

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Wallis and Futuna rejection of seabed mining welcomed by Pacific NGOs

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 24 September 2018

A decision by traditional leaders in Wallis and Futuna to reject work related to seabed mining has been welcomed by a regional body of non-government groups.

Earlier this month the kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna ruled out allowing any further exploration of the seabed in their waters, saying their stance is final.

The Pacific Islands Association of NGOs ,or PIANGO, said it stands with community and church groups around the region who call for a ban on seabed mining.

PIANGO director Emele Duituturaga said there were environmental concerns and also a lack of clarity around the financial benefits that resource owners will directly receive.

She said in the current geo-political environment and age of cheque-diplomacy it is important for the voices of the people to be heard.

“Now is the time for traditional leaders and our indigenous peoples, who are the main owners of our resources, to stand up and be counted.”

Emele Duituturagasaid the lessons and experiences of mining in the Pacific should be heeded when contemplating exploration of the seabed.

She said there should be a ban on seabed mining around the region, and that the same environmental and benefit issues surrounding terrestrial mining, exist around seabed exploration.

“We’ve not really seen any income from terrestrial mining. We’ve also seen the environmental degradation so we doubt very much that seabed mining will be any different.”

French scientists have visited the territory and said the question of underwater mining will remain.

Five years ago, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council urged the government to secure resources in the seabed off France’s overseas territories.

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