Government and Civil Society want the same thing – Information.
“Government and civil society actually want the same thing – information. Although we need to make decisions based on science not speculation,” says Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown in response to calls for a moratorium on seabed minerals activity by international and local NGOs. The call for a moratorium stems around the lack of full understanding of the environmental impacts of seabed harvesting.
A Report commissioned by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign and Mining Watch Canada (International NGOs) sets out the lack of knowledge about the habitats and biodiversity of the deep sea. This includes the impact that disturbance of the seabed will have on the deep sea environment.
Government acknowledges that while there have been several decades of research there still needs to be more information on the environmental impacts of nodule harvesting. This is where focussed research is critical, which will happen in the exploration phase of seabed mineral activities.
During the exploration phase, contractors will need to undertake detailed studies on the deep sea environment. They will need to address the concerns that have been raised about potential impacts before they can move to the harvesting phase. This will be verified through a comprehensive monitoring programme.
“Before government will allow harvesting to happen it must be satisfied that there are answers to the unknowns,” says Brown, adding “we need to make decisions based on science, not fear of the unknown. Knowledge requires research, and a moratorium would bring research on our mineral resources to a standstill.”
The Cook Islands has the right to develop the natural resources within its 2 million km2 EEZ. This includes its vast seabed mineral resource estimated to contain 12 billion tonnes of nodules.
The Cook Islands is taking the lead on the development of its seabed resources. “We can't just sit back and expect good things to happen for the country. We need to be proactive in making the most of our natural resources,” says Brown.
In order to do that the Cook Islands have established strong laws and empowered its agencies to regulate ocean activities. Furthermore, through Marae Moana, key agencies including the Seabed Minerals Authority, Ministry of Marine Resources, National Environment Service and Ministry of Transport work cooperatively with local NGOs to ensure development occurs responsibly.
“We are applying best practices in the development of our legal and environmental frameworks,” says Commissioner Alex Herman.
“It’s important to note that deep sea harvesting is not currently happening, and likely won’t happen for several years,” says Herman, “this presents us with a unique opportunity as it will be the first time an industry sector develops its framework before extraction happens.”
Herman notes the Report mentions the Cook Islands has issued an exploration license in its EEZ. “This is incorrect,” she says, “no exploration licenses have been issued yet. Although the government will be running a robust licensing process for exploration in the next financial year.”
“Seabed minerals development has been a long term goal of this government and previous governments, spanning decades as part of our effort to diversify the economy. Covid 19 has reminded us again of our economic fragility and seabed minerals will be vital for the country’s financial security,” says Brown.
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