Tag Archives: Cook Islands

Environmental and eco risk unknown in Cooks’ deep sea mining

Seabed mining machine

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 29 November 2017 

The Cook Islands is exploring the benefits and potential of its deep sea resource.

Beneath the sunlit zones, where the country’s tourism and fishing industries lie, is a largely unexplored and untapped expanse of promise.

Also unexplored is the environmental risk and potential threat to other parts of the economy.

Dominic Godfrey reports.

Five kilometres below the surface of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone lie manganese deposits which could provide a pathway to prosperity for the country.

The problem is not just getting them to the surface but the environmental impact this may have, as New Zealand’s principal ocean scientist Malcolm Clark explains.

MALCOLM CLARK: “The deep sea is a very poorly understood system. There are no boundaries in the oceans and so – coastal, continental shelf, deep sea, inshore, offshore – it’s all linked. And that’s especially important in the Pacific Island countries where we’re fairly small land-masses in the middle of a large ocean. So the connectivity across potentially quite large areas of ocean space is very important to understand.”

Dr Clark says while the actual area of mining may be small, the impact could encompass large areas.

MALCOLM CLARK: “In digging up these resources, there’s going to be disturbance of the sea bed and the sediment that’s been sitting idle is going to be demobilised and it will form a cloud. And that’s going to start to move with the currents, away from the area of direct physical impact. That’s an aspect that we don’t yet well understand but what the effect on the sea-floor communities, the sea-life, we’re not too sure at the moment. We’re working on that in a number of research programmes around the world.”

The co-ordinator for the Pacific Network on Globalisation, Maureen Penjueli, says the lack of understanding is a major concern as Cooks’ seabed legislation contains no reference to avoiding international harm.

She says the 2009 Seabed Minerals Act also has no provision for ‘precautionary principle’, where human activities could plausibly result in unacceptable harm.

MAUREEN PENJUELI: T”here was very little understanding about the potential impacts. There was an over emphasis on the potential economic benefits. So the legislations were set up under the broad narrative that seabed mining was considered small risk, very high return.”

Maureen Penjueli says it was drafted with no provision for the possible impact on tourism, fishing and black pearl farming.

MAUREEN PENJUELI: “When you consider that our economies are heavily dependent on the ocean – our people are heavily dependent on the ocean for livelihoods, food security – that’s quite problematic in terms of the current legislation.”

However, the country’s Seabed Minerals Authority commissioner Paul Lynch says ‘precautionary principle’ and environmental issues were front and centre to the original Act.

He says it was amended in 2015 and is under continual review with input from Ms Penjueli and PANG welcome.

PAUL LYNCH: “We’re very open to that but currently we’ve got the act out for review and we’re expecting that out to the community next year and into Parliament should there be any changes needed.”

But Mr Lynch says this year the Marae Moana Act was passed to provide an holistic umbrella to all aspects of the Cooks’ marine management.

He says it’s ground-breaking national legislation that has conservation as its main plank.

PAUL LYNCH: “With zoning for different users, like zoning for fishing, zoning for tourism, zoning for mining. Mining if it takes place in the future, it’s going to be quite contained and controlled based on a zoned management marine spatial plan.”

In zones beyond the Cook Islands in the north-east Pacific, mining projects are underway managed by the International Seabed Authority under the UN’s Law of the Sea.

The environmental organisation Te Ipukarea Society’s Kelvin Passfield says the Cooks should learn from these.

KELVIN PASSFIELD: ” I’d be inclined to wait and see what the environmental impacts outside of our EEZ were before allowing any mining within our EEZ. The Cooks can wait and see what happens in other jurisdictions or in the high-seas like the Clarion Clipperton Zone and determine what impacts there may be from them.”

PANG’S Maureen Penjueli agrees but points to Nautilus Minerals’ plans to mine Papua New Guinea’s Bismarck seabed.

MAUREEN PENJUELI: “If you simply take PNG as the case study, the Solwara 1 project, it is clear that impacts have already been felt. You don’t have to go into it to look at the impact, you can look at PNG.”

An annual report from the Canadian company shows both the environmental impacts and profits from the project are unknown.

In the Cooks, Texas based Ocean Minerals has 17 months left in its agreement to apply for manganese nodule prospecting and exploration licences but with weak global demand for rare earth minerals, the economics may not stack up.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Pacific region

Lack of environmental safeguards highlighted in Cooks legislation

Radio New Zealand | 17 November 2017 

The Pacific Network on Globalisation says claims environmental costs would stop seabed mining in the Cook Islands would be thwarted by a lack of safeguards in the country’s laws.

PANG co-ordinator Maureen Penjueli says the Cooks’ Seabed Minerals Act dates back to 2009 when deep-sea mining was believed to be low risk, high return.

She said in 2017 the risks to the environment were still little understood.

The country’s Seabed Minerals Authority Commissioner Paul Lynch said earlier this week that mineral extraction will likely not go ahead if the environmental cost is too high.

Ms Penjueli said there was nothing in the legislation to stop prospecting or mining on environmental grounds.

“When you consider that our economies are heavily dependent on the ocean – our people are heavily dependent on the ocean for livelihoods, food security – that’s quite problematic in terms of the current legislation.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact

Environmental cost will likely stop Cooks’ seabed mining

Photo: Florence Syme-Buchanan/RNZ

Radio New Zealand | 15 November 2017 

The Cook Islands’ Seabed Minerals Authority Commissioner says deep sea mineral extraction in the country will likely not go ahead if the environmental cost is too high.

Paul Lynch said the country’s Seabed Minerals Act ensured a careful, steady approach to any potential exploration or mining.

He said the act was the world’s first, dedicated national legislation to control seabed minerals activities.

Mr Lynch said criticism, based on objections to seabed mineral prospecting in other countries, is superficial and close-minded.

The Pacific Network on Globalisation co-ordinator Maureen Penjueli said Pacific Island governments need to be extremely cautious about deep sea mining as it’s largely experimental with many potential liabilities.

Mr Lynch said, at a depth of 5000 metres, the Cook Islands manganese nodules are a different resource to other countries.

He said any future extraction may be 5-10 years away.

The Cook Islands government last month entered into an agreement with the company Ocean Minerals to reserve 23,000 square kilometres of the country’s exclusive economic zone for up to 18 months.

The agreement gives the company exclusive rights to apply for manganese nodule prospecting and exploration licenses.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact, Mine construction

Cook Islands receives just $71,000 for seabed exploration rights

Cook Islands’ waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Cooks govt enters into ocean mining agreement

Radio New Zealand | 4 October 2017

The Cook Islands government has entered into an agreement with a company called Ocean Minerals to reserve 23,000 square kilometres of the country’s exclusive economic zone for up to 18 months.

The agreement which earned the government $US71,000 gives the company the exclusive right to apply for licensing to undertake prospecting and exploration activities for manganese nodules.

If Ocean Minerals does apply for an exploratory license within the agreed timeframe, the company will be expected to go through the necessary processes required by the Cook’s Seabed Minerals Act, the recently passed Marae Moana Act, and the Environment Act.

This is the second agreement negotiated with the company.

2 Comments

Filed under Cook Islands, Exploration

Mining company paying holding rights for Cooks seabed area

Cook Islands’ waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Radio New Zealand | 22 May 2017

The Cook Islands government has been earning $US8000 a month as part of a five-year deal with a US mining company to hold an area of seabed for potential mining.

Ocean Minerals Limited is paying for holding rights to secure an area between Aitutaki and Penrhyn until it can raise $US20 million to explore the area.

After conducting research the company said the area could yield valuable minerals from the seabed.

The Cooks Islands Seabed Minerals Authority Commissioner Paul Lynch says the holding rights are a precursor to the company applying for exploration application or a mining licence.

“They’re not able to just pay US$20 million to just fund a boat to come up and explore so they’re just asking the government to hold one of our key sites for them and they’re paying $8000 a month until they either apply for the exploration licence or and their time limit runs out and they lose it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Exploration

Ocean explorers find “Forests” of coral near Cook Islands

One of the Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV) exploring deep seas of the Pacific Ocean during the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer’s 2017 mission Photo: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin.

“We have seen quite a few very large corals. There’ve been a couple as tall as the ROV, a couple as wide as the ROV. They’ve been absolutely stunning”

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand | 4 May 2017

Dense coral forests are among the surprising discoveries in the ocean depths near the Cook Islands.

Robots have been videoing the seafloor and collecting samples as part of a US mission to better understand the Pacific’s unknown deep waters.

Sally Round spent an afternoon exploring with the mission.

“We’re making our way up the ridge here at a depth of 2150 metres…”

Dr Del Bohnenstiehl is on the Okeanos Explorer sitting on the high seas 260 kilometres north of the Cook Islands.

“We’re just going to try to make a little progress up this slope and really get a sense of how broad this bamboo coral forest is ….”

Darting luminous dots, waving fronds and crawling sea creatures loom into sharp focus via a remotely operated vehicle or ROV hovering above.

“Much better seeing it on the big screen … look at that …”

I’m sitting in Wellington with scientists from the New Zealand scientific agency NIWA and we’re “virtually” exploring, via a big screen, with the American team, thousands of kilometres away.

On the ship is the expedition’s co-ordinator Kasey Cantwell.

“We have seen quite a few very large corals. There’ve been a couple as tall as the ROV, a couple as wide as the ROV. They’ve been absolutely stunning. A couple of dead corals but in this sort of environment, that’s pretty typical.”

The New Zealand scientists aren’t just watching, they’re part of the research team, asking for samples which are collected by a robotic claw.

NIIWA principal scientist Malcolm Clark says the exploration is valuable for future management of the Cook Island’s Marae Moana.  

“Getting information like this enables us to put the biodiversity in a much more regional context, to find out what is unique, what’s quite common, where boundaries occur, where species can’t cross from one area to another.”

Dr Clark says the information will be sent to the Cook Islands authorities and will help with sustainability around fishing and seabed mining. 

“The sort of information we’re collecting with these dives gives us a very good indication of what is down there at the depths they might be interested in but it gives us an idea of what the wider environmental impacts could be of any human disturbance, any mining activity on the deep sea floor.”

Dr Clark says the scientists were amazed at the dense coral forests near the Cooks compared to some of the relatively barren areas they’d seen on other dives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact, Pacific region

US company to explore Cook Islands seabed for minerals

ocean life

Radio NZ | 29 September 2016

A new US company says it has signed an agreement with the Cook Islands granting it rights to prospect and explore the country’s seabed for minerals.

In a statement the Texan company Ocean Minerals said it had secured exclusive access to parts of the seabed within Cook Islands exclusive economic zone.

The company said it believed these areas contained sediments enriched with rare earth elements.

It said this was based on research conducted by the Houston-based Deep Reach Technology Inc. on existing archived samples throughout the Pacific.

Ocean Minerals said it plans to undertake several phases of seabed sampling over the next few years which will incorporate the collection of environmental baseline data.

In July the Cook Islands Investment Corporation’s chair, Mike Henry, signed a contract with the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority giving it exclusive mineral rights to an area of 75,000 square kilometres in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone.

The 7,240 km long mineral rich zone extends over millions of square kilometres in the north Pacific.

Cook Island News also reported that a joint venture agreement was also signed with Belgian company, GSR, giving it the possibility of exploring and exploiting the Cook Islands ocean floor minerals.

The Texas Limited Liability Company Ocean Minerals was formed in 2016 and is focused on developing the Rare Earth Element enriched sediment resources in the Cook Islands EEZ.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Exploration