Tag Archives: Cook Islands

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Second company keen on sea bed mining around Cook Islands

Mark_Brown cook islands

Finance Minister Mark Brown

Radio New Zealand | August 4, 2016

The Cook Islands says there is interest from a second mining company wanting to explore the country’s seafloor for minerals.

Last month 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.

The Cook Islands News reports 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 Finance Minister Mark Brown, who is also the minister responsible for seabed minerals, said the Government was expecting to sign their second exploration licence with another company in the coming months.

He says it is a significant step forward for the country in its push to be involved in mining seabed minerals.

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Cooks Islands fails to find suitor for seabed mining

Mark_Brown cook islands

Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown. Photo: Phillipa Webb / Cook Islands News

Cooks to take more direct approach to seabed mining

Radio New Zealand

The Cook Islands government says it will consider a more direct approach to find investors to mine its sea floor after a five month open tender process failed to register a single bid.

The country’s finance minister said he was not surprised by the lack of interest in the open tender process given the depressed state of global minerals markets and the high risk, high cost nature of deep sea mining.

Mark Brown said while the Cook Islands was reviewing its tender process, negotiations were already underway with various international companies from Europe, America and Canada.

“One of them we are engaged in discussions in a partnership arrangement also in the international seabed authority area in the northern Pacific in the Clarion Clipperton Zone.

“And the others we are in discussions with are looking at options for exploration in our own EEZ.”

The Cook Islands open tender process was launched in August last Year and expired last month.

The Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority said it received enquiries from companies in Japan, Korea, China, the US, UK and Germany but no formal applications were lodged.

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Deep Sea Mining a New Ocean Threat

(Image courtesy of NOAA)

Image courtesy of NOAA

Richard Steiner* | Huffington Post

Adding to concerns about the disastrous decline in ocean ecosystems, now there is another emerging threat – deep sea mining. While shallow water mining for sand, gold, tin, and diamonds has been conducted for decades, commercial deep sea mining has yet to occur anywhere. But that’s about to change.

Extensive deep sea mineral exploration is currently underway in international waters governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), under the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and within Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of many coastal nations.

There are currently three main types of deep sea mineral deposits of interest to industry and governments:

1. Polymetallic nodules (also called “manganese nodules”) are potato-sized metal nodules found on the abyssal plain from 4,000 m – 6,000 m deep. These nodules are rich in manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium, molybdenum, iron, and Rare Earth Elements. Nodules grow slowly over millions of years, to diameters from 5 cm – 50 cm, and host unique invertebrate communities. Currently, 13 national consortia operate exploration leases on 4.5 million km2 of the Clarion-Clipperton (Fracture) Zone (CCZ), between Baja and Hawaii. The U.S., as a non-party to UNCLOS and ISA, issued exploration leases on its own to Ocean Minerals Company (OMCO), a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed Martin, to explore for nodules in the CCZ. The only nodule deposits being seriously considered within a national EEZ at present are in the Cook Islands in South Pacific.

2. Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposits are found beneath deep sea hydrothermal vents along the 67,000 km of volcanically active mid-ocean ridges and back arc basins, between 1,500 m – 5,000 m deep. These contain high-grade copper, gold, silver, zinc, and other trace metals. Deep sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems were first discovered in 1977 at the Galapagos Rift, and stunned the world of science, as these vent systems rely entirely on chemosynthesis rather than photosynthesis – the first ever known. Over 300 deep sea vent systems have been discovered so far, and it is estimated that perhaps only 500 – 5,000 may exist in the world ocean, making this one of rarest ecosystems in Earth’s biosphere. China and Korea hold contracts to explore SMS deposits in international waters of the Indian Ocean, and Russia and France hold exploration leases on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Other SMS deposits being considered are in waters of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Vanuatu, Palau, Niue, Fiji, Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and New Zealand. The Nautilus Minerals “Solwara 1” project in PNG waters is fully permitted, the mining ship and equipment are being built, and mining is scheduled to begin in 2018. This would be the first commercial deep sea mining project in history.

3. Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts are found on summits and flanks of seamounts at 400 m – 4,000 m depth. There are some 10,000 seamounts in oceans rising at least 1,000 m above the seabed (and perhaps another 90,000 smaller seamounts). Many are in EEZs of central Pacific islands (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Johnston Atoll), and in international waters of the tropical Pacific. Metal crusts form on shoulders of seamounts, rich in cobalt, nickel, copper, iron, manganese; rare metals such as tungsten, platinum, bismuth, tellurium, etc.; and Rare Earth Elements. Crusts grow slowly, 1 mm – 5 mm per million years, and can reach total thickness of up to 260 mm. Seamount crusts are currently being explored by China and Japan in international waters of the western tropical Pacific, but many feel actual mining of seamount crusts would be by far the most problematic and least feasible.

Marine phosphate (fertilizer) and methane hydrate (energy) resources found in shallower waters, 100 m – 500 m deep, are often discussed in context with deep sea minerals. Marine phosphate mining is in consideration off Namibia (currently under moratorium), New Zealand (the environmental permit was denied earlier this year, but the developer is considering reapplying next year), and off Baja Mexico, where Odyssey Marine has submitted its EIA for mining the Don Diego phosphate deposit in 70 m water depth, 12-25 miles offshore. Japan has successfully tested methane hydrate, or “fire ice,” extraction from its offshore waters.

But here’s the problem. The deep ocean, where mining is proposed, constitutes the largest and least understood biological habitat on Earth. It’s an Alice-in-Wonderland world of extremes, extraordinary adaptions, bizarre organisms, beauty and mystery. The region is characterized by darkness (infused with sparkling bioluminescence), extreme pressure, cold temperatures, high biodiversity (perhaps millions of species, most yet to be identified), slow growth and reproductive rates, and high sensitivity to disturbance (low resilience). Given our poor understanding of deep sea ecosystems, growing industrial interest, rudimentary management, and insufficient protected areas, the risk of irreversible environmental damage here is real.

Environmental risks and impacts of deep sea mining would be enormous and unavoidable, including seabed habitat degradation over vast ocean areas, species extinctions, reduced habitat complexity, slow and uncertain recovery, suspended sediment plumes, toxic plumes from surface ore dewatering, pelagic ecosystem impacts, undersea noise, ore and oil spills in transport, and more.

Due to the global rarity of deep sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems, the impact of vent mining would be disproportionately high relative to terrestrial mining. Full-scale nodule mining on the abyssal plain would affect thousands of square miles of ocean floor, kill attached invertebrate communities, and create huge subsea sediment plumes that would flow and settle over thousands of square miles of seafloor. Such sedimentation would smother seabed habitat, reduce habitat complexity and biodiversity over vast areas, and post-mining recovery would be extremely slow. Mining of cobalt crusts on seamounts would cause enormous, possibly irreversible impacts to unique, productive seamount ecosystems.

Clearly, we need to avoid such ecological damage. Before any deep sea mining moves ahead, we would need much more extensive scientific research – species identification, community ecology, distribution, genetics, life histories, resettlement patterns, resilience to disturbance, and at least a 10-year continuous time series of observations to understand dynamics of proposed mining sites over-time. In addition, we need more robust management regimes at the ISA and in coastal nations, royalty-sharing and liability agreements, stakeholder engagement, and significant advancements in subsea technology. Until this is achieved, the only wise policy is a global moratorium on all deep sea mining.

seabed 2

Image courtesy of NOAA

The need for more deep sea Marine Protected Areas is paramount. New Zealand established its Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary this year on over 620,000 km2 of the islands and submarine volcanoes northeast of the main islands; Cook Islands established a marine reserve on 1.1 million km2 (over half) of their EEZ; the U.S. established a 1.2 million km2 Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument; and the ISA established Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs) over about half (or about 2.3 million km2) of the area currently under lease in the CCZ. This is a good start, but still insufficient.

Industry and governments recognize the huge challenges in mining the deep ocean, but are resolved to move forward anyway. As justification, they invoke the “peak minerals” argument, depletion of land-based minerals, and a projected increase in mineral demand in the world economy.

But mining proponents habitually avoid discussing the opportunity to reduce mineral demand by increasing the efficiency of metal use in the global economy, cradle-to-cradle design, recycling, and landfill mining. To build a sustainable economy, we will have to break the “economy of waste” – mining raw minerals, using them once or twice, discarding them, and continuing the demand for mining raw minerals. Surely at some point, with smart renewable metal use, we will have enough minerals already up into the global economy and won’t need to keep digging holes for more. The sooner we get there, the better.

The Nautilus Minerals “Solwara 1” vent/SMS mining project in PNG waters will likely be the first deep sea mining project, with others following elsewhere in PNG, Tonga, and Fiji. Others projects to watch in national waters include Odyssey’s Don Diego phosphate mining project off Baja, and manganese nodule mining in the Cook Islands. Mining on the international seabed is likely 5-10 years off, but there is intense political pressure to do so.

This emerging industry would result in serious impacts to our oceans, so it is critical for civil society to engage now, in the early stages of exploration and development. It would be truly unfortunate if we allow the same industrial paradigm that destroyed much of the terrestrial ecosystems of our home planet to do the same in the deep sea. It is time to change this model.

This is a very big deal, and we need to pay close attention. Groups such as the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, MiningWatch Canada, Greenpeace, Earthworks, and the Center for Biological Diversity are doing great work on the issue. The future of our oceans, and thus our planet, may depend on their success.

* Professor and conservation biologist, Oasis Earth (www.oasis-earth.com)

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