Tag Archives: Cook Islands

Cooks govt looking at seabed mining interest in Norway

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

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018

The Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown is currently in Norway discussing the possible exploration of seabed minerals in the Cook Islands waters.

The Cook Islands News reports that manganese nodules found in the Cook Islands, lie on the seabed, at depths of more than 5000 metres.

According to initial scientific studies, the nodules were of a very high quality and there is a large quantity on the seabed which could make the nation billions of dollars.

Mr Brown said they would re-advertise the tenders as there had been some new interest in exploring the seabed.

He added that all practices, including exploration and the extraction of the minerals, would have to be done in a manner which was environmentally friendly and did not impact negatively on the Cook Islands.

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Strong opinions on deep-sea mining in Cook Islands

OML repesentatives check out a potential exploration vessel

Liam Ratana | Cook Island News | April 06, 2018

Cook Islanders have been quick to air their opinions about deep-sea mining, following the recent visit to this country of Ocean Minerals Ltd. (OML)

Two weeks ago, the Cook Islands took a step towards becoming the first in the world to mine deep-sea nodules, with six representatives from OML visiting the islands of Aitutaki and Rarotonga to explore the viability of harvesting nodules.

CINews shared the story last Wednesday and have been inundated with comments since. Most of those who commented had concerns regarding the environmental impacts that deep-sea mining may have in the Cook Islands.

One comment read “…all mining causes destruction”, while another said, “they (OML) will get their riches and leave us with the crumbs, the mess, and no fish for future Cook Islanders”.

Yet another commenter said, “our entire ecosystem will be destroyed…no matter how many thousands of miles the seabed mining will be away from us, it will destroy us”.

Many people also made mention of the Republic of Nauru, which is a tiny island nation that was once considered to be the wealthiest in the world.

Nauru once had rich deposits of phosphate which were mined until there were no more commercially viable deposits left. The Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust was initially established to ensure the ongoing prosperity of Nauru and its people after phosphate mining had ceased. However, due to mismanagement, the great wealth of the tiny pacific nation was squandered away.

Even though there was strong opposition on social media to the idea of deep-sea mining in the Cook Islands, there were also some who enthusiastically supported it.

Said one commentator: “People are being hypothetical about the risk to this exploratory initiative, based on historical experiences that have happened in other mining sites.

“If our legislation and regulations are based on New Zealand’s and Norway’s experiences…then there is hope that proper procedures will be followed to minimise risk and environmental impacts…take the right steps to reduce, eliminate, and/or minimise any impact to the environment”.

Paul Lynch, who has led the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority since 2012, claims that deep-sea mining will not impact islands, villages, and lifestyles here. He says it could help to diversify the Cook Islands’ small economy.

Lynch says that “minerals could help to provide new revenue streams and jobs” and that people “appreciate the Cook Islands steady approach”.

“A crucial part of deep-sea mining is sensible exploration and research”.

Lynch says that this involves “gathering good baseline deep-sea environmental data and managing it well…facts and data that can help our Cook Islands communities and decision-makers make informed decisions.

“Then we can decide whether or not to, or how we want to develop our own natural resources, based on our own facts and thinking…”

Lynch says that laws are being drafted now, “decades before revenue is anticipated so if there are no more seabed minerals left in the future, a well-managed national sovereign wealth savings fund” will ensure that the people of the Cook Islands will be cared for.

“We need to protect all national revenue from deep-sea mining” he says.

One commenter said that they would “welcome the day when we can bring up the first load of nodules from the depths (of the ocean) without negatively impacting our environment and finally start our journey to true financial independence. The focus then will be on managing our wealth”.

Another commenter said, “…that’s why the seabed (minerals) authority was established. They have legislation, policies, guidelines, and regulations in place to safeguard the country from any potential risks…I’m sure the seabed (minerals) authority is also mindful of the challenges and risks involved”.

There is little known about the deep-sea environment, especially at a depth of 5000 metres, where the Cook Islands nodules are located. Even less is known about the potential environmental impacts of mining those nodules.

Some reports state that the impacts of deep-sea exploitation will “last forever” and many others say that environmental risks and impacts of deep sea mining would be “enormous and unavoidable”.

According to one report, the effects could include seabed habitat degradation over vast areas, the extinction of species not yet discovered, reduced habitat complexity, and much more.

However, these are all just educated guesses. The reality is that no one knows what the impacts will be. Research is ongoing and the exploitation of Cook Islands nodules is “at least eight years away from beginning”, according to OML director David Huber. The potential benefits will have to be considered in-light of the potential environmental effects. 

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Cook Islands one step closer to mining sea floor

Representatives from Ocean Minerals Ltd (OML) inspected the Layar Mas 291 last Friday. OML are expected to purchase the boat and repurpose it for deep-sea exploration.

Liam Ratana | Cook Islands News | March 28, 2018

The Cook Islands is the only country in the world with a widely recognised, commercially viable ‘polymetallic nodule field’ – including valuable deposits of cobalt and titanium – within its exclusive economic zone.

Last week, the country took a step towards becoming the first in the world to mine those nodules, with six representatives from the American-based Ocean Minerals Ltd (OML) company visiting the islands of Aitutaki and Rarotonga to explore the viability of harvesting nodules.

Last year, OML gained exclusive rights to apply for licensing to undertake prospecting and exploration activities in an area of around 23,000sqm. This area lies within the South Penrhyn Basin, one of only four locations in the world with densities high enough for potential commercial extraction of nodules.

The agreement with the Cook Islands government was reportedly worth $100,000 and is valid for 18 months. OML director David Huber says the company is now in the process of applying for a licence to prospect and explore the area.

Cobalt metal fetches more than $130,000 a tonne and its value is expected to keep soaring. According to a report published by the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, the South Penrhyn Basin could meet 24 per cent of global demand for cobalt and 26 per cent of the demand for titanium.

It is assumed that a commercially viable mine would need to harvest at least 2.5 million tonnes a year for at least 20 years. At current value, that much cobalt would be worth $3.25 billion a year.

Cobalt has many uses, including the production of batteries, alloys for aircraft engine parts, electroplating, and imparting blue and green colours in glass and ceramics. Radioactive cobalt is even used in the treatment of cancer.

OML’s interest in the nodules is well-known – particularly with regard to cobalt’s “green” uses. It possesses many unusual properties, one of which is that it increases power efficiency when used in batteries. This is particularly important to renewable energy industry and electric car manufacturers, as it allows the use of smaller batteries. These batteries are identical to the ones being considered for the power storage project now underway in the Cook Islands.

Agencies in New Zealand, such as the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, have been working in collaboration with the Seabed Minerals Authority in the Cook Islands to ensure environmental issues are well understood.

In 2013, the Seabed Minerals Act came into effect in the Cook Islands. It was the world’s first dedicated seabed minerals-related national legislation.

Paul Lynch, who has led the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority since 2012, says the Cook Islands has developed a regime of controls on seabed minerals activity, which includes community input and strong environmental safeguards. “We see the technical and environmental issues as the most challenging to be addressed and overcome.”

The Cook Islands has also passed the 2017 Marae Moana Act, forming a nationally managed ocean space over the whole exclusive economic zone, which is almost two million square kilometres. The Act is based on conservation and zoned areas of resource utilisation, founded on a “whole of ocean” and precautionary approach.

OML had a number of engagements whilst here, including meetings with Lynch and Business Trade Investment Board chief executive Teariki Vakalalabure.

Director Huber said the purpose of the visit was to “seek the environmental, business, and government permissions to allow us to commence with the environmental data collecting and research phases of our project”.

OML says they are taking a “precautionary approach” towards the exploitation of the Cook Islands seabed and are focussed on the environment.

Sharing part of OML’s plan exclusively with CINews, engineer and chief operating officer for OML Hans Smit says their programme to collect environmental data, not only in nodule-rich areas but also across the broader Cook Islands region, spans at least three years.

“Our objective is to use Cook Islands vessels and Cook Islanders to collect this data and we have been in discussion with local companies and the authorities to establish what is required to commence these operations” says Smit.

“OML will gather data about sea life, birds, and many other things – statistics that Huber claims “have never been collected in the Cook Islands before”. Last Friday, the group inspected the Layar Mas 291, a vessel owned by local businessman Malcolm Sword. Huber said the boat was far from ideal, but added, “if there’s any way we can make this boat work, then we will”.

Huber has been in discussions with Sword about advanced requirements for the boat and says he admires Sword’s zeal. Huber says that even if the boat is not used to extract the nodules, it is likely to be used by OML for other purposes, including “baseline studies” of the environment.

OML have plans to soon establish a base in Rarotonga. Huber says that his company is dedicated to ensuring that the people of the Cook Islands see some benefit from their activities. He says legislation that ensures profits from OML’s activities remain within the country is currently before the Cook Islands parliament.

According to Huber, it is likely some money will go into a fund dedicated to upgrading infrastructure and other resources within the Cook Islands. However, he also confirmed that once extracted, the nodules will be taken to offshore smelting plants, probably in Australia or Indonesia.

OML will be advertising a vacancy within the next six months for an environmental and outreach coordinator to take charge of interaction and consultation with the people of the Cook Islands.

Huber says the company will be focused solely on the Cook Islands. “A lot will be happening within the next six months”.

However, he estimates mining operations are at least eight years away from beginning.

Last Friday, the group inspected the Layar Mas 291, a vessel owned by local businessman Malcolm Sword. Huber said the boat was far from ideal, but added, “if there’s any way we can make this boat work, then we will”.

Huber has been in discussions with Sword about advanced requirements for the boat and says he admires Sword’s zeal. Huber says that even if the boat is not used to extract the nodules, it is likely to be used by OML for other purposes, including “baseline studies” of the environment.

OML have plans to soon establish a base in Rarotonga. Huber says that his company is dedicated to ensuring that the people of the Cook Islands see some benefit from their activities. He says legislation that ensures profits from OML’s activities remain within the country is currently before the Cook Islands parliament.

According to Huber, it is likely some money will go into a fund dedicated to upgrading infrastructure and other resources within the Cook Islands. However, he also confirmed that once extracted, the nodules will be taken to offshore smelting plants, probably in Australia or Indonesia.

OML will be advertising a vacancy within the next six months for an environmental and outreach coordinator to take charge of interaction and consultation with the people of the Cook Islands.

Huber says the company will be focused solely on the Cook Islands. “A lot will be happening within the next six months”.

However, he estimates mining operations are at least eight years away from beginning.

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Seabed minerals [mining] company to visit Cook Islands

Seabed Minerals Authority mining operations commissioner Paul Lynch says ‘exploration’ is very different from the ‘exploitation’ the EU Parliament wants to stop.

Jonathan Harwood | Cooks Island News | February 12, 2018

Representatives from United States-based company Ocean Minerals LLC (OML), which has an option on exploring the possibility of seabed mining in Cook Islands waters, are to visit Rarotonga next month.

Last year, the company signed a deal worth $100,000 to reserve an area of around 23,000 square kilometres containing high-value polymetallic (manganese) nodules for up to 18 months.

They have until April next year to make an application to begin exploration work within the Cook Islands EEZ.

The visit comes soon after the European Parliament called for a moratorium on seabed mining.

In January it passed a resolution that “calls on the (European) Commission and (European Union) member states to support an international moratorium on commercial deep-sea mining exploitation licenses until such time as the effects of deep-sea mining on the marine environment, biodiversity and human activities at sea have been studied and researched sufficiently and all possible risks are understood.”

Paul Lynch, commissioner of the Seabed Minerals Authority in the Cook Islands said any mining operations in local waters remained a long way off.

And he explained that “exploitation”, which is what European legislators want to halt, was very different to “exploration”, which is what is currently being considered for the Cook Islands.

Exploration involves short term scientific research to understand the viability of any mining proposal, and also involves assessing what impact it might have on the seabed and environment. Exploitation is the final stage and involves the actual removal of minerals from the seabed and could last for many decades.

Indeed, a desire to understand the effects of deep-sea mining or exploitation could be interpreted as a call for more knowledge to be gained from exploration projects.

Lynch said he was confident that the Cook Islands was approaching the issue in a responsible way, having passed the Seabed Minerals Act in 2009 – the world’s first national legislation dedicated to regulating seabed minerals activities.

“We have a world class regulatory framework to deal with the potential risks. And that is why we want to first seek exploration applications, over the next three to five years, so we can see if it is viable for the country, in terms of benefits and sustainability. The contractor also needs to determine its own costs and benefits perspective.”

He added that any subsequent mining operations were still five to eight years away and would adhere to “best international practice and high environmental principles in collaboration with Marae Moana”.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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