Tag Archives: Environmental damage

Shifting sands: Why seabed-mining dredges up such opposition

The South Taranaki Bight at Kaupokonui. Photo/Alamy

A second application for what would be the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand is meeting heavyweight opposition from iwi, environmentalists and oil and gas interests. 

Rebecca Howard /  New Zealand Listener

The battle lines are again being drawn in the black ironsand of the South Taranaki Bight as Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) makes a second bid for permission to mine a remote piece of seabed off the west coast of the North Island.

TTR, which describes the ironsand deposit as “world-class, with enormous, and currently untapped, economic benefit for New Zealand”, gained early government agency backing when it first began talking up the project in the late 2000s. Those opposed argue that the venture will do irreparable damage to the local environment and any benefits do not outweigh that cost.

In 2007, the company began investigating the deposits, most of which lie more than 20km west of Patea, within the 200km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Its aim is to excavate 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year and process it for export into up to five million tonnes of iron ore annually for 35 years. It is a seabed-mining version of the Taharoa ironsands export business, which has operated since the 1970s and was sold to Maori interests last month.

The material is mined using a slow-moving crawler, which creeps along the seafloor “vacuuming” up sand and seawater and pumping it to a vessel. The iron ore is magnetically separated and the residue sand, about 90% of the total, is immediately redeposited.

“It’s not sucked up, held on a ship for days and then put back. This is a continuous dredging operation where it’s coming in the front and going out the back while we’re mining,” TTR chairman Alan Eggers told the committee hearing TTR’s second application for a seabed-mining consent.

No chemicals are added and the iron ore never comes ashore; it is pumped straight to purpose-built vessels. TTR says this method of extracting ore is much cheaper than land-based mining. That insulates the venture from fluctuations in global ore prices, which tanked two years ago but have recovered somewhat lately.

The project, which the company estimates could make about $400 million in annual iron-ore sales, will cost US$550-600 million ($790-860 million) to develop.

The company says the vast majority of the redeposited sand will settle back on the seabed, filling areas already dredged. However, the process will form a “plume” in the water column, which will drift depending on tides, ocean currents and general weather conditions in an often turbulent part of the Tasman Sea.

The potential environmental impact of this plume was the reason TTR failed at its first attempt to be granted what would have been the first seabed-mining permit in New Zealand. In 2014, a committee appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority ruled that the effects of the proposal were too difficult to gauge on the evidence available. Under the terms of new and previously untested law governing the EEZ, that was grounds for rejection.

TTR, which has so far invested more than $70 million, decided not to appeal the original decision but rather submit a new application, which required a new committee. That second hearing has been under way since mid-February.

Opponents, including environmentalists, local iwi, Maori organisations, parts of the fishing industry and the Australian owner of the Kupe oil and gas field, Origin Energy, say TTR has failed to provide enough new evidence in the latest bid and there are still too many unknowns.

“TTR’s most recent application is simply the same old car with a new lick of paint,” said Robert Makgill, a lawyer for the fisheries submitters.

In a joint submission, Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (Kasm) said the application “in no way overcomes the reasons the first application was denied”.

According to TTR, however, it has undertaken “significant new work to substantially improve knowledge of both the existing environment and the extent of the potential effects arising from the sand-dredging operations”. This evidence demonstrates that the effects of the proposal on both the marine environment and existing interests are “generally very small to negligible”, the company said.

However, expert witnesses for the project’s opponents take issue with the way the results of TTR’s modelling were interpreted, and the new committee asked TTR to provide more worst-case scenarios.

Danger to marine life

Ironsands support little marine life, but a plethora of opposition experts say the area covered by the application is home to creatures ranging from tiny organisms living in the bottom sediments to blue whales and the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin.

Experts for TTR claim there is a low likelihood of marine mammals being present in the proposed mining area. There was “nothing to suggest that the mining area is of any significance to any marine mammal species”, said scientist Simon Childerhouse of Blue Planet Marine New Zealand.

His view was disputed by zoology professor Liz Slooten, who blasted TTR for “poor information”, including an incomplete species list and a lack of data about the effect of noise.

“There is no way that we can estimate the number of individuals of each species that might be affected by noise, through physical injury or behavioural disturbance, or that might be impacted by other effects from the mining operation,” she said. Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust told the committee that “there is too much uncertainty”.

Origin, concerned with the potential impact on its own offshore operation, hasn’t seen “sufficient difference” in TTR’s new evidence to justify a different result for this application and worries particularly about the potential for a collision at sea. Origin and TTR have agreed conditions if consent is granted, but “we would prefer not to have TTR operating in our area”, said Origin’s Martin Aylward.

The committee, headed by former Wellington deputy mayor Alick Shaw, has extended its deadline from the original April 13 to May 31, citing “a number of evidential matters still to be addressed”. Even that decision was fraught with controversy: submitters argued that the company had failed to dispel any of the uncertainties and should not be given more time to do so.

Greenpeace and Kasm argued the committee should have “returned the application as incomplete” and said it is crucial that the next closing submissions be final. Fisheries and iwi submitters say they will not bear the additional cost and effort “to address information gaps in TTR’s application during this hearing”.

Greenpeace and Kasm may apply for a judicial review of the TTR bid, arguing the process is flawed.

The critical question for TTR may be whether scientific uncertainty can ever be sufficiently dispelled for a new activity in a little-understood ocean environment. If the answer is no, it won’t be dredging any time soon.

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Papua New Guinea moves to launch new coal mining industry

In 2006, a young girl walks between coconut palms on the coastline of Puil Island, part of the Carteret Islands, where rising sea levels eroded much of the coastlines and contaminated crops and freshwater. In 2009, evacuation began to nearby Bougainville Island. Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Greenpeace.

Catherine Wilson | Mongabay | 16 May 2017

Recent plans call for both coal mining and coal-fired electricity generation, raising questions about the government’s commitments to climate change action and leadership.

  • Two years ago, the Papua New Guinea government allocated $3 million for research into the viability of coal extraction.
  • An Australian company plans to build three mixed coal power generation plants in the country.
  • Proponents argue affordable and reliable electricity is needed to boost economic growth, while opponents cite environmental risks including the threat of climate change and rising sea levels.
  • Analysts also question how much urban-based power plants will raise electrification rates, since most un-electrified households are in rural areas that cannot easily be connected to electrical grids.

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) government is actively pursuing the potential of developing a coal mining industry for the first time in the country’s history. Two years ago, it channeled 10 million kina (US$3million) to its Mineral Resources Authority for research into the viability of coal extraction. Now, an Australian company engaged in exploration is proposing to build three mixed coal power generation plants in the cities of Port Moresby, Lae and Madang, citing the need for affordable and reliable electricity to boost economic growth.

But environmental science experts and civil society groups are concerned about the potential environmental and climate impacts of developing a domestic coal industry, and the risk of undermining the country’s commitments to climate change action and leadership.

“It is no secret that the first ever climate change refugees in the world are from Papua New Guinea,” declared Dagia Aka, member of the youth climate change movement, 350 PNG.

In 2009 residents of the Carteret Islands in the far east of Papua New Guinea were forced to begin migration to nearby Bougainville Island after rising sea levels and the contamination of crops and freshwater sources rendered their island homes uninhabitable.

“Mining ventures in Papua New Guinea have a dark history of destroying the environment around them and there has been a failure to put measures in place to avoid such [damage],” Aka continued.

“Given the overall assessment of PNG’s energy policy and its natural resources, it is important not to develop the coal mining industry,” Chalapan Kaluwin, head of environmental science and geography and director of the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Papua New Guinea, told Mongabay.

“The sustainability of other energy sources, such as geothermal and renewable energy, including wind, solar and waves in the country, is significant. Coal mining has far more adverse negative impacts on the overall sustainability of PNG, its landowners and long-term health of its communities.”

Exploration underway

While three international companies — Waterford, Pacific Mining Partners and Mayur Resources — are currently engaged in coal exploration in PNG, the Department of Petroleum and Energy has yet to report the granting of any coal mining leases.

But Brisbane-based Mayur Resources, which is exploring for coal in the southern Gulf Province and claims to have discovered extensive reserves, is already planning to build three urban-based mixed coal electricity generation plants.

“The first project to build an Enviro Energy Park (EEP) at Lae with 2MW solar and 2x 30MW conventional generation fueled by domestic coal and PNG renewable biomass is in a very advanced stage waiting only the conclusion of a Power Purchase Agreement with PNG Power,” Paul Mulder, Managing Director of Mayur Resources told Mongabay.

He said the project already had environmental approval from the government’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), which was granted in June last year.

While Papua New Guinea does not yet have coal mines, it has already faced severe environmental impacts from mines, such as this open-pit gold mine in the country’s Western Province. Photo by Glen Barry/Greenpeace.

PNG’s extractive industries: costs and benefits

PNG, with major reserves of gold, copper, nickel, silver, oil and gas, has been a natural resources-dependent economy since Independence from Australia in 1975. The mineral resources sector alone accounts for more than one-third of government tax revenue. In 2013, taxes on the extractive industry amounted to US$292 million. From 2011-2013, it contributed an average 15.6 percent annually to the country’s GDP.

Coal, which remains one of the cheapest available sources of energy and fuel, drove industrialization and modernization in Europe and North America. But the environmental impacts of coal mining include the depletion of forest cover, air and water pollution, and contribution to global warming through the release of methane, a greenhouse gas, from natural coal seams. Burning coal to generate electricity produces carbon dioxide and oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, further contributing to the greenhouse effect.

This is a major concern for small Pacific Island developing states which are disproportionately exposed to climate change, whether in the form of extreme weather or rising sea levels.

In April last year, in line with the forceful advocacy by many Pacific Island leaders for industrialized nations to reduce their carbon footprint, Charles Lepani, PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia, publicly called on the Australian Government to downsize its coal mining industry in light of the Paris Climate Agreement and its goals.

Australia produced an estimated 16.3 metric tons of carbon emissions per capita in 2013, compared to 0.8 tons per capita in PNG, the most populous Pacific Island nation of 7.6 million people.

Forest lining the Bairaman River in PNG. New Guinea Island has some of the world’s largest and most biodiverse remaining tropical forests. Photo by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

“To cry foul to the major contributors to the fossil fuel industry and climate change, yet participate in something that will only make matters worse for us definitely does not paint a good picture,” Dagia Aka responded. “Pacific Island countries have a moral responsibility to take a lead with the Paris agreement simply because we are the ones facing the worst effects of climate change at this point in time.”

Other regional governments have also expressed concerns about coal mining. In 2015 leaders of Pacific Smaller Island States — comprising the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau and Tuvalu — issued the Port Moresby Declaration on Climate Change which calls for “a global moratorium on all new coal mines.”

In countries across the region, higher sea levels and temperatures have led to the flooding of villages, coastal erosion, deteriorating crop yields and freshwater supplies. Affected communities have been forced to relocate in the Carteret Islands in PNG, Nuatamba and Nararo Islands in the Solomon Islands and Vanua Levu in Fiji.

Internal migration is a very expensive undertaking for Pacific Island governments presiding over small economies and restricted budgets already over-stretched with a wide range of human and socioeconomic development goals.

And the burden of adapting to climate change is only forecast to increase.  In PNG alone, annual mean and extremely high daily temperatures, ocean acidification and sea levels are all predicted to rise this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program (pdf). Under a high emissions scenario, annual surface air temperatures could rise between 2.1-4.2 degrees Celsius and sea levels by 0.87 meters by 2090.

Aerial view of a coal mining operation in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, illustrating the damage coal mining causes forests. Photo by Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace.

Future plans

The global pact reached at the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris two years ago does not contain an explicit anti-fossil fuel stance. However, it does state “the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries …. through the enhanced deployment of renewable energy” as part of the overall ambition of ensuring the global average temperature increase does not reach or exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In March 2016, PNG, the first nation to submit its national plan for climate action following ratification of the Paris climate agreement, stated “the main mitigation contribution for PNG would be in terms of an indicative replacement of fossil fueled electricity generation with renewable energy sources” with a target of employing “100 percent renewable energy by 2030, contingent on funding being made available.”

Mayur Resources, developer of the Lae energy park, is keen to promote its support of the country’s transition to low carbon energy. It claims that its plants, by combining coal with renewable energy sources and employing state of the art clean emissions technology, will only result in PNG using coal for 10-20 percent of its power generation, in contrast to 71 percent in Australia. The company also argues the facilities will not increase emissions and comply with the nation’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

“The proposed [Enviro Energy Park] project will maintain the same level of carbon dioxide as the current level from the power generation sector, as nearly 40-50 percent of current power is being generated through diesel and heavy fuel oil. However, the EEP will bring in substantial environmental benefits to the ambient air quality [in Lae] by massively reducing the acid rain-causing gases, like oxides of sulfur, potentially 8-14 times less, and oxides of nitrogen, about 12 times reduced,” Mulder said.

However, while Mayur resources classes biomass as a carbon-reducing element of the project, many researchers question the tendency to classify biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source.

London-based Chatham House reports that “while some instances of biomass energy use may result in lower lifecycle emissions than fossil fuels, in most circumstances, comparing technologies of similar ages, the use of woody biomass for energy will release higher levels of emissions than coal and considerably higher levels than gas.”

Rounded white stones line the Bairaman river in West Pomio district. Photo by Paul Hilton/Greenpeace.

Mayur Resources further says its planned coal mines will result in minimal land disturbance mainly due to “the scale of these operations being very small compared to most other mines globally…..being in the bottom 1 percent of the smallest mines.”

But the University of Papua New Guinea’s Kaluwin claims the full potential impacts of the company’s planned operations are still to be thoroughly assessed.

“The impacts on the environment, destruction of land, atmospheric pollution, water, livelihoods, health, housing, education, culture and traditions, economic benefit sharing and most importantly governance, have not been properly evaluated for such a project to be implemented in PNG,” he said.

Businesses and the government also make an economic argument for coal. Mayur Resources believes that low electricity generation costs of about $0.10 per kilowatt hour, about 35-40 percent lower than the average wholesale cost of power in the local area, will boost business and industrial growth in the eastern coastal city of Lae. The urban center is strategically located between a major cargo shipping port and the Highlands Highway, the only overland transport network into the country’s heavily populated interior.

However, these urban-based plants will contribute little to increasing electricity coverage in rural and remote areas of the country where more than 80 percent of PNG’s population resides and energy deprivation is the greatest.

In this 2003 image, Melanie John, Lulu John, Aebi Sakas and Warume Sakas walk along a logging road in Western Province. The majority of PNG’s population continues to live in rural areas, which are nearly impossible to connect to a national electrical grid. Photo by Sandy Scheltema/Greenpeace.

Energy poverty is a major development challenge in the region.  Only 20 percent of households across the Pacific Islands region, and 12 percent in PNG, have access to electricity, hindering human and socioeconomic development.  An estimated 40 percent of PNG’s population live in hardship, only 63 percent are literate and only 40 percent have access to clean water.

Geographical barriers, such as arduous mountain terrain, dense forest and scattered islands, separated by the sea, make a national power grid virtually impossible. In this context, energy experts recommend greater investment in off-grid and standalone power systems, especially those compatible with renewable technologies, to achieve a substantial improvement in rural and, therefore, national electrification.

“Papua New Guinea, being a tropical island state, is a prime area for solar and hydro clean energy,” Dagia Aka emphasized.

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NZ seafood companies, iwi slam EPA over seabed mining application

Undercurrent News | May 16, 2017

Seafood companies have slammed the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) handling of the application to mine for 35 years 50 million metric tons of iron sand from the ocean floor off the coast of Taranaki.

The application by Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) is opposed by Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Talley’s Group, Southern Inshore Fisheries Management, and Cloudy Bay Clams.

A range of environmental groups have also submitted opposition to the bid.

TTR’s first application was refused in June 2014 after a decision-making committee appointed by the EPA found the application was premature and more time should have been taken to understand the proposed operation, its effects on the receiving environment and existing interests.

“TTR’s latest application is almost identical to the first, and does not address the EPA’s key reasons for refusing TTR consent in 2014,” Fisheries Inshore New Zealand’s chief executive, Jeremy Helson, said.

“TTR‘s 2014 application was refused due to inadequate information, and adverse effects on the environment and existing economic activity. It is hard to understand why the EPA allowed TTR to resubmit a largely unchanged application,” Helson added.

TTR’s latest application, lodged with the EPA in August 2016, has been dogged with controversy from the start, as the TTR sought to withhold information on the effects of the sediment plume from the public for reasons of commercial sensitivity, said the release.

The EPA’s decision to approve this withholding of information was overturned by the Environment Court, on the application of the seafood industry, iwi and environmental groups.

TTR has a responsibility to provide robust information to support its application. Its  failure to do so has seen the EPA directing those opposing the application to fill in the gaps, said the complainants.

“The extension of the process and continued re-submission of evidence has resulted in submitters incurring unreasonable costs to address the deficiencies in TTR’s application.”

The hearing began in February and was initially to have ended on April 12. Instead the EPA extended the hearing to May 31 to address further questions concerning the information provided by TTR in support of its application.

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Company confident experimental PNG seabed mining project on track

Nautilus CEO falsely claims communities have given their free prior informed consent to experimental seabed mining – a COMPLETE LIE. 

He also fails to mention the company doesn’t yet have the funds to start mining!

Radio New Zealand | 15 May  2017

A Canadian mining company says it is confident that a controversial seabed mine will be operational off Papua New Guinea in 2019, as planned.

There have been ongoing concerns about what the impact the Solwara 1 project off the coast of New Ireland Province will have on the environment and local communities.

Nautilus Minerals was granted an environmental permit in 2009 to develop the mine, but it is still yet to be built.

Nautilus chief executive Michael Johnston said the company has conducted robust consultations with a range of groups about the impact of the mine, and he says these had been factored into their planning process.

He said the company had run various hearings and workshops in New Ireland, Kokopo, Rabaul and Port Moresby and any issues that were raised at the meetings were recorded and, where appropriate, were attached as conditions to the company’s licences.

“I know NGOs around countries like Australia and New Zealand jump up and down about free and prior informed consent, but you actually have a system in PNG where it’s actually obtained.”

There had been concerns raised about the process mixing the water column and the potential for it to cause plumes, but Mr Johnston said that the mining process had bee designed so that this wouldn’t be an issue.

“We designed our system taking that on board and have a system where we take the water up on to the vessel, separate the ore-bearing material. It then goes through a de-watering plant which is basically a series of screens, cyclones and eventually filters to remove the ore material and we filter it to 8 microns and then the filtered water is then returned in pipes.”

He said that the technology the company would use, was not new, and been used the the oil and gas industry for years.

“Deep water is anything over about 2000-25000 m. The machines that we are deploying are basically a modification of oil and gas of an oil and gas trenching machine.”

The company is confident the project will be on track to start extracting ore in the first quarter of 2019, he said.

“So that’s the budgeted first ore date and we’re tracking to that schedule at the moment so I don’t see any reason why it won’t achieve it.”

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Bishop Bernard Unabali Condemns Bougainville Mining Rush

Bernard Unabali | 9 May 2017

Today I was invited to attend the ABG “launching of [the] mining Industry”, [which heralds the] formal opening up for exploration licenses, and application, on this formerly “closed up” issue.

So now Isina in Kongara II Jaba tailing area, and Mt Tore in Tinputz can be formerly accepted in their application for exploration licenses.

Reasons [highlighted by the ABG]:

  • Progress
  • Independence
  • Church support
  • Monetary self-reliance
  • Spin off [benefits]
  • New people based mining; and
  • A system fed up with Panguna alone

Only [as] a footnote [was] responsibility for environment damages mentioned. No one starkly mentioned that in reality Laluai, Eorun, Rawa, Wakunai, Aita, Raruma, and many other rivers will be gone especially if [an] incapacitated ABG and Mining Department pretend to safeguard us from highly experienced foreign evaders of truth, and of whom some are just serial environmental rapists.

We must accept that intending the good [of mining], we have also celebrated our future social, physical and even spiritual graveyard !! The church fought [against] a unjust, wrong, foreigner, CRA, in the past. I hope sadly the church will not [have to now] fight the wrong guys in our own people evading law and truth for the sake of money, with pretentious leaders of ‘landowner groups’, if [these] licenses evolve into actual mining [leases] later?

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Solomons landowners discuss concerns on reopening gold mine

The over-full tailings dam facility at the Gold Ridge Gold Mine on Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands in January 2015. Photo: copyright Dr Matthew Allen – ANU

Landowners on Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands have been consulted about the proposed reopening of the Gold Ridge gold mine.

The mine was closed in 2014 after massive floods and its ownership was then transferred from the Australian owner St Barbara to a local land-owning company Guadalcanal Community Investments Ltd.

Guadalcanal Community Investments Ltd is now working with Chinese-owned Australian property developer AXF Group which plans to have the mine operational by the end of 2018.

Bringing the gold mine back to life is also a major policy objective of the government which says it wants to do it right.

Members of landowning communities discussed a range of issues with government officials and company representatives relating to royalties, security, environmental impact, revenue sharing and the relocation of people.

They were assured by both the government and the company that their concerns would be taken onboard and addressed to ensure a smooth reopening.

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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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