Tag Archives: experimental seabed mining

Cook Islands: manager of world’s biggest marine park says she lost job for backing sea mining moratorium

Jacqueline Evans says she was dismissed from managing the Marae Moana.

Environmentalist Jacqueline Evans says she was dismissed from the Marae Moana for urging caution on deep-sea mining

Ben Doherty | The Guardian | 19 October 2019

The public champion of the world’s largest marine reserve – the Cook Islands’ Marae Moana – has said she lost her job managing it because she supported a moratorium on seabed mining in the Pacific.

Six months ago, Jacqueline Evans won the Goldman Environmental prize – the world’s foremost environmental award – for her work establishing Marae Moana (meaning “sacred ocean”), which covers the Cook Islands’ entire exclusive economic zone of more than 1.9m sq km.

Evans alleges she lost her job as director of Marae Moana because she argued in favour of a 10-year-moratorium on seabed mining to allow for research on its environmental impact.

The Cook Islands government is proceeding with mining exploration, saying it wants to be at “the frontier of the new gold rush” and could be ready to start seabed mining within five years. It says mining the seafloor for metallic nodules could provide financial security for the islands and help them mitigate climate change.

“The catalyst was my policy advice to my colleagues within government that we support Vanuatu, Fiji and PNG on their support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining … so that baseline scientific data can be collected,” Evans told Guardian Australia.

She said she was “gravely concerned that government officials don’t want to take the time” to collect data from the reserve, including on the little-understood species that live in the deepest parts of the ocean.

“Our ocean is important to us, for our survival. If we destroy the ocean, we destroy our food supply, our livelihoods and our economy. Marae Moana represents how Pacific Islanders feel about their Pacific Ocean. It’s important that this viewpoint is upheld.”

The proponents of seabed mining argue it can provide minerals critical to renewable energy industries with little waste. But environmentalists arguing for caution say precious little is known about the deep ocean, and even less about the potential environmental impacts of mining it.

Evans was one of six winners of the Goldman prize in 2019 for her “five-year grassroots campaign” to better protect the Cooks’ marine biodiversity.

In addition to mandating sustainable use of its waters, Marae Moana established a 50-nautical mile fishing exclusion zone around each of the Cooks’ 15 islands, leaving those waters exclusively for the use of island communities.

The Cook Islands’ prime minister, Henry Puna, has been crucial in directing government support for the reserve, and the former rugby league player Kevin Iro, now ambassador for Marae Manoa, first proposed the idea and led the campaign for the marine park.

But Evans was responsible for developing government policy and the Marae Moana Act, which parliament passed in 2017. Until last month, she was the sole employee of the Marae Moana Coordination Office.

In a statement reported by the Cook Islands News, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Ben Ponia, thanked Evans for bringing “passion, expertise, and energy into this role”.

Several sources have told the Guardian that Evans lost her job, which was within the office of the prime minister, because of her support for the moratorium. This has been reported in the Cooks, and has not been denied by the government.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Evans’s dismissal.

Evans said a moratorium should be acceptable to both supporters and opponents of mining.

“Advocates for manganese nodule mining … say that the only life at 4.5km to 6km deep, where the manganese nodules lie on the seabed, are small ‘head lice’,” she said. “We know so little about the ecosystem at that depth. We need to collect more information before such statements can be made.”

The Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority said ocean survey work over four decades had identified as much as 12bn square tonnes of mineral-rich manganese nodules spread over the Cook Islands’ continental shelf.

“This seabed mineral resource offers a significant opportunity for the long-term sustainable economic and social development of the Cook Islands,” it said.

In a statement last week, the minerals authority said: “Despite calls for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining in the Pacific to allow time to conduct more environmental research, the Cooks are set to be the frontier of the new gold rush”.

Deputy prime minister Mark Brown said seabed mining could prove vital to the country’s financial security and contribute revenue towards climate change resilience.

“We can’t just sit back and expect good things to happen for the country, and I see us as taking the lead,” Brown said.

Deep-sea – or seabed – mining has proved contentious wherever it has been proposed.

Proponents argue it could yield ore far superior to land mining in silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc, with little, if any, waste product. The industry is potentially worth billions of dollars and could assist the transition to a renewable energy economy, supplying raw materials for key technologies such as batteries, computers and phones.

Environmental and legal groups have urged extreme caution, arguing there are potentially massive ramifications for the environment and for nearby communities.

Scientists argue deep sea biodiversity and ecosystems remain poorly understood, making it impossible to properly assess the potential impacts of mining – including disturbance of seafloor ecosystems, sediment displacement and noise, vibration and light pollution.

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Cooks opposition backs seabed mining moratorium

Radio New Zealand | 15 October 2019

The Democratic Party of the Cook Islands is backing a call by some Pacific countries and civil organisations for a 10-year moratorium on any seabed mining activity.

The opposition party said there were too many unknowns about the seabed and long-term impact of mining it.

Party leader Tina Browne said a precautionary approach would afford Pacific island countries, including the Cook Islands, time to gather and learn from more scientific data.

Ms Browne is urging the government to be completely transparent and cautious about any ventures to exploit the local seabed to harvest stocks of manganese nodules concentrated in the South Penrhyn Basin.

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Deep sea sponges may hold key to antibiotic resistance

A group of “Venus’ flower basket” glass sponges, with a squat lobster in the middle (Image: NOAA)

The scientists who discovered antibiotic properties in a deep-sea sponge warn that such breakthroughs could be lost in the face of mineral exploitation

Jessica Aldred | China Dialogue | October 9, 2019

Prof Mat Upton is a medical microbiologist and Dr Kerry Howell is a deep-sea marine ecologist. At the University of Plymouth they have discovered antimicrobial properties in bacteria that live in a species of deep-sea sponge ­– a potential breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. But they warn that such potential could be lost in the drive to exploit the ocean floor for minerals.

Jessica Aldred (JA): What did you discover and how?

Mat Upton (MU): We’ve grown bacteria from the sponges that Kerry has retrieved from the deep-sea floor and tested them in the lab to see if they kill other bacteria. 

Kerry Howell (KH): Sponges are one of the most promising sources of potential medical uses, with 145 reported antimicrobial compounds isolated between 2001 and 2010.

However, almost all research undertaken so far has been on sponges from shallow waters. At Plymouth we have begun to look at a number of different deep-sea sponge species. One that has shown promising results is from the genus Euplectella, found between 700 to 1,700 metres deep in the north-east Atlantic.

It is one of the best studied deep-sea regions in the world, but for many of the species we are working on, we don’t even have the most basic information beyond their identity.

A medically promising glass sponge species from the genus Euplectella, retrieved by Kerry from the Atlantic seabed and potentially new to science (Image: Plymouth University, Marine Institute Ireland, Eurofleets 2)

MU: By combining our expertise, we have begun to investigate the unknown microbiomes of several deep-sea sponges. Through this work, using cutting-edge DNA-sequencing technologies and novel strategies to maximise the diversity of bacteria we can grow from sponge samples, we have been able to isolate novel bacteria that produce antibiotic compounds that kill drug-resistant pathogens, including superbugs like MRSA and E coli.

JA: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global human health. How do your findings help?

MU: The risk posed by AMR requires that we find new antibiotics to fight drug-resistant infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By looking in new natural environments, we may find new antibiotics that work in different ways to the ones we currently use.

In the case of our work on deep-sea sponges, it has been demonstrated in a number of studies that individual sponge species harbour relatively specific bacterial populations. The number of sponge species present in these unseen deep-sea environments has not been determined. It is likely that there are many new to science in these locations, each one with the potential of hosting new bacteria. These novel bacteria in turn are likely to produce antibiotics, and other medicines, that are new to science. We have only looked in detail at the microbiomes of two or three different sponge species and we’ve already potentially found some new antibiotics. Expand this to other sponge species we have not even seen and the possibilities are clear.

We’ve also only just begun to look at antibiotic compounds. There are many other lines of enquiry into medically relevant compounds that we’ve not started. Sponges and their microbial populations can produce anti-cancer compounds, analgesics, immune modulators and many other bioactive compounds.

KH: There is a real possibility that with the onset of deep-sea mining we could be destroying species that have important biomedical potential before we even know they exist. We may also be having an impact on the other ecosystem services that the deep sea provides, like climate regulation. At present our lack of understanding means it is difficult to predict potential outcomes beyond the obvious negative consequences. This, in turn, makes it difficult to make informed decisions about how this new industry operates and is managed.

JA: How significant is your discovery?

MU: By looking at the DNA of the bacteria that we have grown from the sponges, we can see that they are not the same as anything that has been grown previously. Some are closely related to previously seen bacteria, but others appear to be really quite novel, possibly new species. We have purified some antibiotic compounds from these bacteria and they are also new to science.

One way to ensure that new antibiotics work against the current drug-resistant superbugs is to use completely new antibiotics. There have been no new classes of antibiotic used in clinical therapy in the last 30 years. The antibiotic compounds we’re finding could be of new classes, giving them a head start against drug-resistant bacteria. This is very significant.

JA: The International Seabed Authority met in July to continue negotiations over a mining code that would govern eventual exploitation. Would mining threaten these sponge species?

KH: Deep-sea mining is a new industry in development. There are three types of deep-sea mining resource recognised, all pertaining to different deep-sea habitats. Polymetallic nodules are found on the abyssal plain, polymetallic sulphides are present as hydrothermal vents, and ferromanganese crusts on some seamounts and ridges.

All of these different resources offer a potential supply of important metals, rare earth elements and other minerals that are used in electronics and the renewable energy sector. We currently stand on the brink of exploitation of the deep sea for these resources. But as we may gain in one way, we potentially lose out in another.

We know that society’s wellbeing is linked to the health of the deep sea through a wide range of ecosystem services as diverse as climate regulation to food security. As a result of our work, we now know that deep-sea species may also hold the key to the problem of antibiotic resistance. What we don’t know is the impact mining will have on the deep-sea ecosystem.

Mining is, by its very nature, destructive, and will result in the destruction of species and habitats. Our knowledge of deep-sea species and habitats remains sparse. This is perhaps highlighted by the fact that recent studies of the main area licensed for polymetallic nodule mining, the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone in the central Pacific, have found up to 90% of species sampled were new to science.

JA: More and more scientists are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until more is known about the species and the potential damage that mining will cause. What would you like to see happen?

KH: Our ecological knowledge of the deep sea has not kept pace with industrial development. There needs to be significant coordinated global effort and investment in research to enable us to forecast potential impacts of mining activities, as well as effects of cumulative stressors such as mining, climate change and fishing acting together.

Only then can we hope to effectively manage, not just this industry, but our oceans as a whole in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14. The UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) offers a 10-year period in which such efforts could be made.

A 10-year moratorium on mining in the Area (international waters that belong to no one nation), coupled with a global programme of targeted deep-sea research, would be the precautionary way to move forward.

JA: The high seas treaty that is currently being negotiated includes who shares the rights to marine genetic resources. Will this treaty help the situation?

KH: The treaty will support the sustainable management of areas of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction by providing legal mechanisms and processes through which coordinated management actions, including the designation of marine protected areas, can happen. At the moment human activities in these areas are managed by a plethora of different organisations and there is no mechanism for a coordinated approach.

For example, we could have a situation where a regional fisheries management organisation has closed an area to bottom trawling for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, but that same area is then licensed for deep-sea mining exploration. The same area could also support species that have promising medical uses, or be very important to other ecosystem services. We need to take a holistic approach but such an approach needs legal processes and mechanisms to be put in place, and that is what I hope this treaty will do. It will also hopefully mean that all nations benefit from potential discoveries, not just those with the technology to exploit these very difficult to study deep-sea habitats.

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NZ support for seabed mining on offer in Pacific

Seabed mining in the Pacific has become a controversial topic – but New Zealand is willing to support nations who want to mine if they ask for support. File photo: Getty Images

Despite uncertainty over the environmental impact, some Pacific countries are pushing ahead with plans to mine their seabeds for minerals – and New Zealand has offered a helping hand.

Sam Sachdeva | Newsroom | 8 October 2019

The New Zealand Government will help Pacific countries carry out seabed mining within their marine territories if asked, despite calls for a 10-year moratorium on the controversial practice.

The Government has refused to reveal which countries it has already assisted, with one environmental group urging New Zealand to reverse its policy and protect the marine environment in the Pacific.

Advocates of the extraction activity have argued it can provide a sustainable and replenishing supply of minerals, while critics have expressed fears about the impact of mining on aquatic habitats and the destruction of the ocean floor.

In New Zealand, a company planning to dredge the ocean floor for minerals off the coast of New Plymouth has headed to the Court of Appeal to win back a mining consent.

But the topic is of concern in the wider Pacific region, with some countries calling for a moratorium on the practice until the environmental impacts are better understood.

In a May briefing to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade set out New Zealand’s approach to any requests for support from Pacific nations planning to mine the seabed in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

The countries’ sovereign rights to utilise the natural resources within their EEZs had to be balanced with protecting the environment and biodiversity, as well as the needs of future generations.

With early indications that the technology and investment from seabed mining in the Pacific would come from “external actors” – a potential reference to China,which has developed a growing interest in seabed mining– officials said countries would need robust legal frameworks, governance structures and environmental protections in place before entering into any agreements.

It was also important than any deals protected the country’s sovereignty and provided a fair financial return.

New Zealand agencies like the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment could help Pacific countries with establishing regulatory, environmental and governance processes for seabed mining.

Support in those areas “would not be inconsistent with the New Zealand Government’s domestic policies for the sustainable management of non-living natural resources,” the briefing said.

“New Zealand will not actively encourage seabed mining in the EEZ of Pacific Island partners, but when approached for assistance New Zealand Government and agencies can support [them] to ensure that environmental protection and good governance frameworks are in place to reduce risk to the marine environment and national interests.”

Among the key principles for New Zealand when considering any requests for support were promoting the sustainable management of natural resources, protecting the environment from pollution, and supporting countries to meet their obligations under international law.

Any support from New Zealand should also align with the Pacific Island Forum’s regional ocean objectives, the briefing said.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is among the Pacific leaders calling for a moratorium on seabed mining in the region

However, Pacific leaders have been at odds over the issue, with some regional heavyweights supporting calls for a temporary ban.

Speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama called on leaders to support a 10-year moratorium from 2020 to 2030, which he said “would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zone and territorial waters”.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has also indicated he would support a moratorium, with his country attempting to recover more than NZ$174 million which it sunk into a failed deep sea mining project.

However, the Cook Islands has announced it will “take the lead” on seabed mining and start activity within five years, with Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown citing a potential reduction in development aid as a driver for the move.

Greenpeace NZ oceans campaigner Jessica Desmond told Newsroom that New Zealand’s position was concerning, with seabed mining carried out using an experimental technique which had never been tested in New Zealand.

“Around the world they’re kind of looking for the precedent setting of where it’s going to be allowed and how it’s going to happen…we don’t know what the environmental impact of this practice is, other than it will be pretty damaging.”

Desmond said New Zealand needed to support the calls for a moratorium from countries like Fiji, given the Pacific’s dependence upon their ocean ecosystems.

“We haven’t consented it in New Zealand, and…saying ‘we’re not going to do it here but we’re going to facilitate you guys to do it’ seems quite off to me.”

It was “short-sighted” for Pacific nations to turn to seabed mining for wealth generation, given the long-term damage such activities would cause, she said.

“If you’re looking at a small Pacific Island nation who depends so much on the ocean, even at a community level…sucking up the seabed and dumping everything back down is going to be much more destructive in the long-term in terms of what their marine resources can supply for them.”

Asked for comment on the Government’s stance and why it was not backing a moratorium, Peters’ office referred Newsroom to MFAT for comment.

In a written statement, an MFAT spokeswoman said the Government was “not in a position to release information about countries who might have requested assistance”, but reiterated the need to balance Pacific sovereignty with environmental protections.

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Muthuvel Opts To Stop Solwara 1

Gorethy Kenneth | Post Courier | October 7, 2019

The government is faced with a major challenge on the country’s Solwara 1 project of which K400 million had already been spent while it faces legal implications in the Canadian Court.

State Owned Enterprise Minister Sasindaran Muthuvel in his recent press conference told reporters that the State was faced with K1.8 billion debt to commercial banks and other service providers and that his personal view was to discontinue the Solwara 1 project.

“You see, B-Mobile owes BSP K96 million and KCH owes ANZ another K130 million, first and foremost, we need clarity on this in order to deal with those costing us millions,” he said.

“Then we have another K375 million that has sunk into the ocean – the Solwara 1 project. The government has already spent over K400 million on this Solwara 1 project and as you know, in the recent news, we lost the case with the developer Nautilus in the Canadian Court and we need to take our next course of action,” Mr Muthuvel said.

“Although they have written to the Prime Minister James Marape to see that they are still keen to work with the government, but my personal view is that we have already lost about K400 million, and my personal fear is that of we continue to engage in the project we are going to be forced to further cash calls to invest in that project.

“It is a pity, in fact that project from day one it started came with a negative impact. We are not going to support a project that doesn’t have a net positive income and that doesn’t have the minimum rate of returns. There are other SOEs that we need to concentrate on like the BMobile and that has to be a collective effort and we prioritise to sell off those not making money.

“If we continue to fund this, there is no satinity we can get and we cannot invest in a project that doesn’t have minimum rate of returns… We need a turn around.”

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Trans Tasman Resources’ fight to mine South Taranaki Bight back in NZ court

Whanganui doctor Athol Steward was joined by supporters in the last stretch of his walk from Raglan to Whanganui in 2017 to protest seabed mining. Photo / File

New Zealand Herald | 25 September, 2019

A mining company’s fight to dig for ironsands off the coast of Taranaki began again on Tuesday in court.

Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) was granted consent in 2017 to dig up to 50 million tonnes of sand off the South Taranaki Bight seabed each year, extract the iron ore from it, and dump the residue on the sea floor.

That consent was overturned by the High Court last year, after it was fiercely opposed by environmental groups including Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, Greenpeace, and Forest and Bird.

The crux of the argument in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday centred on whether a raft of conditions that were issued with the marine discharge consent, amounted to an “adaptive management approach”.

Adaptive management is a provision that allows for an activity to still go ahead, even if the information about its effects is unknown, or incomplete.

It can also be described as learning by doing, and adjusting the way something is done once more information becomes available.

Under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act (EEZ) an adaptive management approach cannot be considered for a marine discharge consent.

The High Court found the conditions imposed alongside the consent, did amount to adaptive management, which is what TTR’s lawyers argued against on Tuesday.

Justin Smith QC told the court the conditions were no different to conditions imposed on other consents, in that if they were breached “you’re out”.

He said if it was adaptive management, the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) Decision Making Committee (DMC), which approved the application, would have known.

“The DMC was more than conscious of what adaptive management is and the [EEZ’s] prescription of its use for the purposes of discharge consents.”

“This matter was considered and considered quite carefully.”

But the respondents disagreed.

Lawyer Richard Fowler said the combination of the 109 conditions did amount to adaptive management because it required TTR to make changes once more information was gathered.

He also said some of the conditions did not have “hard limits” meaning there was no clear way to know if they had been breached or not, so was different to a regular consent.

Lawyer for Forest and Bird Martin Smith told the court the DMC was provided with information that contained significant uncertainties about the state of the current environment and the effects of the proposed activity.

“The conditions allowing adaptation were imposed in response to [a lack of information] so that info could be gathered and the activity adapted accordingly. That is the kernel of adaptive management.”

The appeal this week is the latest in a long string of litigation for the parties.

TTR initially applied for consent to mine in 2013, the Environmental Protection Authority refused the consent in 2014, but granted it when TTR re-applied in 2017.

Last year a number of environmental groups, including Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, Greenpeace and Forest and Bird fought the consent in the High Court and won.

In September last year the company sought leave for this week’s appeal, which will continue to be heard on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Cooks opposition appalled at dumping of marine conservationist

Jacqui Evans Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

Radio New Zealand | 25 September 2019

The Cook Islands Opposition Democratic Party says the dumping of Jacqui Evans from the Marae Moana is appalling.

The party leader, Tina Browne, said by removing the world-renowned environmentalist the government has a reached an all-time low.

She said it is completely unacceptable for the government to do this to a highly qualified, passionate Cook Islander who has dedicated most of her life to the protection of the ocean.

Ms Brown said she is aware that Ms Evans didn’t back the government on its plans to ignore the regional call for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining.

She said the government instead wants to fast pace mining within the Cook Islands EEZ.

The Cook Islands Government has not yet explained why it took the action it did.

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