We wish to raise the following matters under term of reference 3 –
the costs and risks of seabed mining in New Zealand, including environmental impacts,
and term of reference 10 – a Te Ao Māori perspective on these issues.
Seabed mining poses significant risks that proves we must drive away from an extractive model and move toward a circular economy. One where we respect the limits of the planet we live on. The potential consequences of seabed mining extend well beyond the timeframes that we understand as humanity. Potentially impacting generations far into the future of the species.
The fragile ecosystems of the ocean contribute significantly to human wellbeing and the functioning of the planet, including exchanges of matter, energy, and biodiversity, and the functioning of open ocean ecosystems is crucial to global biogeochemical cycles.
There is only one path forward, and that is as the government has done in international negotiations, to follow a precautionary approach. Seabed mining must be banned in Aotearoa.
1. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction
- Damage to the sea floor, benthic life associated with the sea floor, plumes of sediment will be created as mining stirs up the seafloor, and from sediment returned from the processing vessel; Risks of the plume to primary productivity, seabirds, fish and marine mammals; and damage to coral reefs.
- Seabed mining activities have the potential to result in the loss of exceptionally critical habitats and the destruction of fragile ecosystems. Disruption of the seabed displaces marine organisms, including species that we have little understanding of.
c. The long term consequences of such biodiversity loss could disrupt the delicate balance of marine ecosystems, aecting the overall health and resilience of the waters surrounding Aotearoa New Zealand.
2. Noise impacts
- We know that one of the most significant and largely unseen impacts of activities in the ocean is vibration and noise. The extraction process involved in seabed mining is likely to generate significant noise and vibrations.
- These vibrations impact the behaviour, communication, feeding patterns, and reproduction of many marine species, including whales and dolphins.
- Noise and vibrations are particularly acute, not only in terms of permanent threshold shift and temporary threshold shift (similar to deafness) but in terms of behavioural changes as well.
3. Water quality and sedimentation
- Seabed mining operations cause increased turbidity and sedimentation in not only the waters that activities are based in, but also those surrounding.
- Sediment disturbed has the potential to be carried far and wide. Smothering marine life and impacting their wayfinding abilities.
- Plumes of sediment also reduce the ability of light to penetrate through the water column, impeding the growth of marine flora such as seagrass and algae.
- The deposition of mineral rich sediment can smother benthic organisms and alter the structure of and composition of seabed communities.
e. There is a risk of potential leaks and spills of fuel and toxic products during the mining process and of the release of toxic and sometimes radioactive metals from the mining operation, such as heavy metals.
4. Cumulative impacts
- Considering the limited understanding of the long term impacts of seabed mining, we have to take note of the uncertainties surrounding cumulative impacts.
- Combined impacts of multiple mining operations as well as interactions with other destructive human activities such as bottom trawling and dredging could have far reaching and hugely damaging impacts.
- A precautionary approach must be taken to ensure that the ocean will be healthy and prosperous well past the age of humanity.
5. Relationship precedent
- As a nation surrounded entirely by ocean, we have one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world. It is essential that we lead by example in the relationship that we hold with the ocean.
- By allowing further destruction through extraction of an already weakened environment, we risk setting a further example of a toxic relationship with the planet.
6. Economic risks
- We are a nation that is heavily dependent on the international impression of being a country that prioritises protection of the environment.
- If Aotearoa New Zealand is known to be engaged in damaging activities such as seabed mining, there is significant potential for damage to our reputation.
c. Our natural beauty and pristine environment are a major drawcard for tourists; lost tourism opportunities such as whale-watching, bird watching, and diving would be significant.
7. Social impacts on indigenous communities
- We have seen courting of indigenous communities across the Pacific by profit-hungry corporations who want to use the indigenous people to open the floodgates to deep sea mining.
- There is significant potential for this to happen here in Aotearoa with indigenous Māori communities. Profit based mining companies will happily sell a dream of prosperity and greenwash to get their way.
8. Legal risks
- Seabed mining could have significant legal risks for New Zealand, such as the potential for disputes over ownership and control of seabed resources.
- I note a submission on this inquiry by Professor Emeritus Jane Kelsey on the issue of Investor–state dispute settlement and suggest you take heed of their warnings.
- We have seen companies use every last method of bringing legal cases against countries who initially allow the seabed mining industry, later favouring precaution. I urge the New Zealand government to consider this in deciding whether to open the floodgates at all, or to proactively protect the ocean from this destructive industry.
9. Violation of te Tiriti o Waitangi
a. Seabed mining is likely to violate te Tiriti o Waitangi as it poses risks to Māori cultural heritage in Aotearoa New Zealand, including the loss of cultural heritage sites, disruption of traditional fishing grounds, lack ofconsultation and consent.
- Māori live by a precautionary approach to interactions
with the environment. Understanding that everything in the universe has mauri – life giving energy. It would be a distinct failure to allow additional destruction of the mauri o te papa moana – the energy of the seabed and all that live on or in it.
- Māori communities have not been adequately consulted and have not given their consent for seabed mining projects that could aect their cultural heritage. It is often an afterthought from companies looking to mine the seafloor to consult with Māori.
In conclusion, the risks associated with seabed mining in Aotearoa, particularly environmental impacts, demand action to prevent destruction. It is the moral responsibility of Te Komiti Whiriwhiri Take Taiao to find in favour of precaution, in favour of protection. That would be honouring te Tiriti o Waitangi.
The preservation of marine ecosystems and natural resources should be and remain paramount in decision making. We must take a responsible approach to seabed mining that safeguards the wellbeing of the environment for future generations.
We wish to raise the following matters under term of reference 6 –
how domestic regulatory settings are performing, including under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, Resource Management Act 1991, and Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Eects) Act 2012
and term of reference 5 – how seabed mining is managed internationally and in New Zealand,
and term of reference 8 – the prospect of any change to domestic regulatory settings being supportive of Pacific countries in considering their own positions on seabed mining.
1. Current legislation
a. Despite supposed intention, current legislation that “manages” seabed mining in Aotearoa doesn’t perform well because it fails to represent any of the values of our nation. It should focus on protecting te taiao – the natural environment, and investing in nature for the future. But instead it has become a tick box exercise.
- The Crown Minerals Act (CMA)
- The CMA fails to include recognition of
cumulative eects, or take an ecosystem level approach in considering environmental impacts.
- The act also fails to provide a strong monitoring and enforcement programme which even further reduces its impact. Monitoring in the CMA focuses more on financial monitoring than environmental.
- There is limited opportunity in the act for public participation. There is also an inherent power dynamic that exists which gives power to corporations with access to significant resources over community groups and indigenous Māori voices.
- There is no precautionary approach in the act. In fact because it and the other referenced acts are so outdated, they don’t distinctly reference seabed mining. There is a failure to adequately legislate this new and emerging industry which poses significant risk.
- The CMA fails to include recognition of
- The Resource Management Act (RMA)
- Once again this act too fails to provide sucient opportunity for public participation through its processes. There is a lack of meaningful engagement with civil society especially iwi/hapū, community groups, and environmental NGOs. This leads to marginalisation of important perspectives and a reduced consideration of environmental concerns.
- The limited scope of the act, being focused on land based activities, means that there is a lack of specific provisions or considerations for managing the unique impacts of seabed mining.
- The fragmented application of the RMA across multiple government agencies leads to gaps, overlaps, and inconsistencies in decisions made through its processes. This results in a regulatory system that undermines eective environmental protection.
- There is again a failure to have a precautionary approach in the decision making process surrounding an activity such as seabed mining. Along with a failure to provide clear guidelines and standards, this is a clear example of legislation being out of date when regulating such a new and unique industry. The absence of such measures undermines the protection of the oceans.
iii. The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf Act (EEZ Act)
1. Yet again we see an example of a lack of recognition of cumulative impacts and a desire to take an ecosystem level approach. This is compounded by a largely permissive approach, where the act focuses on permitting activities in the exclusive economic zone instead of protecting the natural environment from such activities.
- There are limited environmental safeguards in the act which lack the ability to evaluate the unique and long term impacts that activities such as seabed mining pose.
- The dominant factor preventing the establishment of seabed mining thus far has been the requirement for marine discharge consents. As detailed below this places the burden of proof on the public who have to fight the existing system to ensure environmental protection.
- Any ban on seabed mining should apply to all areas under New Zealand’s jurisdiction, including the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf.
b. We see too often “management” processes under these acts becoming reliant on community opposition to ensure that they actually protect the ocean. This whilst simultaneously allowing power to be shifted in favour of those most resourced and providing little opportunity for public participation regardless. They should be designed to ensure the health and resiliency of the natural environment. You see one of the most prominent examples of this in the Trans-Tasman Resources case referencing marine discharge consents below.
2. Marine discharge consents and the impact on communities
a. So far through the process of the Trans-Tasman Resources proposal we’ve seen a distinct failure of current processes to put the protection of the environment at the centre of decision making.
- Instead industry is allowed to power ahead, and the
burden of proof is on those fighting for the voiceless planet to prove that activities such as seabed mining will cause unjust damage through legal avenues.
- For iwi, hapū, community groups, and civil society organisations this means dedicating their lives to fighting industry and government to protect the environment. This burden should not be held by the people, rather should be held by the government and its agencies acting on behalf of the New Zealand people.
- Additionally there is potential for a recurring litigation process where for example in the Trans-Tasman Resources instance, we go through a cycle of opposition and appeal. Continuously fighting the same issue.
3. How seabed mining is managed internationally
- The International Seabed Authority is an organ of the United Nations that is mandated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While that is its mandate, it has so far acted as more of a facilitator to mining instead of being a neutral regulatory party.
- The New Zealand Government clearly sees merit in a precautionary approach, supporting a conditional moratorium on deep sea mining in the high seas until a robust regulatory framework is in place that prioritises the protection of the ocean.
- There is substantial and growing opposition to the industry with more and more nations joining the calls for precautionary measures. Some such as France champion the calls for an all out ban on the dangerous industry.
4. Pacific opposition to seabed mining
- There is strong opposition from civil society in the Pacific such as the Pacific Blue Line, and the Pacific Parliamentarians Alliance on Deep Sea Mining of which two current MPs of the New Zealand Parliament are members.
- The nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tuvalu have all spoken out against the deep sea mining industry.
- Opposition is based on a number of factors. There is a distinct growth in the number of people speaking out against deep sea mining across the region.
- Environmental concerns such as risks to fragile ecosystems, large scale loss of biodiversity, destruction of marine habitats, and release of potentially toxic and radioactive materials.
- A lack of social licence due to a widespread lack of consultation with indigenous Pacific people under the principles of full free and prior informed consent.
- With a strong connection to the ocean, Pacific people consider the seas as being integral to their cultural identity and practices. The industry is widely seen as a threat to the cultural heritage of the Pacific, as well as their livelihoods with reliance on the ocean for not only tourism but also customary fishing.
- By supporting the international opposition through calls for a precautionary approach, the New Zealand Government added much needed weight to the growing calls from the Pacific region. This would be strengthened even more so by taking a similar approach in domestic waters. We must lead by example by taking the best precautions in our backyard. This means implementing a ban on destructive practices such as mining of the precious seafloor.
We wish to raise the following matters under term of reference 9 –
recommendations for maintaining or updating New Zealand’s domestic regulatory settings
1. Urgent need to update New Zealand’s domestic regulatory settings
- There is only one clear path forward that respects the issues raised above. It is time to put in place a strong ban on seabed mining. There is no room for such a destructive industry in the Aotearoa New Zealand of today.
- A ban is a popular policy and one that political parties in the upcoming election should strongly consider making key to their oceans portfolio. A call for precaution is a call for the oceans to be protected for generations to come.
- Allowing the current legislation to continue to be the only safeguard in the way of this dangerous industry is like leaving your most precious assets open to be destroyed. Reliant on those who care enough to dedicate their lives to fighting for the ocean and those who are connected to it so deeply to do the job of the government. The status quo must be broken.
We wish to recommend the following course of action:
Alongside 57,000+ people who signed the Greenpeace petition, and numerous others who have signed other petitions by organisations such as Kiwi’s Against Seabed Mining, we call on the Government of New Zealand, to urgently implement a ban on seabed mining in the waters within New Zealand’s jurisdiction.
Te Komiti Whiriwhiri Take Taiao should recommend this course of action to the government in its report as a result of this inquiry.
Seabed mining is a new threat to the oceans. Now is our chance to prevent the destruction before it’s too late.