As the debate continues over the pros and cons of deep-sea mining, there is now unanimous support by both major political parties for exploration by companies interested in harvesting minerals from the ocean floor.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown has welcomed this week’s policy shift on seabed mining by the Opposition Democratic Party.
The party had previously backed a call by some Pacific countries and conservationists for a 10-year moratorium on mining activity, citing the need for more information about potential impacts.
However, this week the party announced it no longer backs a decade-long moratorium, which the Demo leader Leader Tina Browne described as “ill-advised.” In response to the opposition’s policy shift, Prime Minister Mark Brown said: “I welcome the statements made by the Opposition leader Tina Browne, as it now aligns with the Government’s stance on exploration activities.”
“Government have always maintained the need to make decisions based on science rather than arbitrary timelines, so I am pleased to see that the Opposition is now taking the same view.”
Seabed Minerals Commissioner Alex Herman said: “It is both reassuring and encouraging that there is bipartisan political support for advancing seabed minerals exploration in our Marae Moana.”
In January, Government concluded an application process for companies interested in prospecting within the boundaries of the Cook Islands. The Seabed Minerals Authority has now received a total of four applications from companies interested in exploring the nation’s exclusive economic zone. The Authority said it is doing due diligence checks on the applications, with decisions on granting exploration licences expected to be made by mid-year.
“Exploration will allow for the collection of essential environment data and information to allow the Government to make informed decisions about whether to permit future commercial harvesting,” said the PM.
“Exploration is also going to lead to more knowledge on our Marae Moana, more training opportunities for our people, and the use of our local businesses to supply goods and services connected to the exploration activities.”
Local businessman, scientist, and director of Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative Stephen Lyon welcomed the Demos new stance. “Without the exploratory licences, good science can’t be done as it is simply too costly,” Lyon said.
“Philosophically, I think putting a moratorium is probably the wrong approach, but there should be the right regulations and resources in place so that the government can properly identify the potential impacts.
“Significant biological, geological and ecological areas need to be ring-fenced and the legislative mechanism to do that should be in place.”
Local environment conservation group Te Ipukarea Society (TIS) described Demos position as “very disappointing” and said it will be issuing further comment on the matter. Earlier this year, the Society’s technical director Kelvin Passfield reiterated the group’s call for a moratorium on exploration.
He said certain areas of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone needed to be mapped out before any decisions are made on awarding exploratory licenses. Passfield also said the group had a preference for “independent” research to be carried out first, outside of the Authority’s exploratory process.
Regarding research to be carried out by companies granted an exploratory licence, Lyon said government needs to ensure the “correct mechanisms” are in place to ensure data relating biological risks is shared publically.
“You can’t fully trust industry to always do exactly what is right when not regulated,” he said.
“Mining is still some way off and there is little incentive for the companies to be misleading about what is down there. To progress we need to look at this as a partnership and understand the bigger picture,” he said.