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Seabed mining approved in New Zealand despite environmentalists’ concerns

(Image courtesy of Nautilus Minerals)

New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority approved Trans-Tasman Resources’ application to mine iron sands from the seabed of South Taranaki Bight, located 22 kilometres to 36 kilometres offshore from Patea.

The approval means that Trans-Tasman is now allowed to recover resources from the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. In detail, the company wants to dig up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year, for 35 years, to get five million tonnes of iron ore per year. The South Taranaki Bight has reported JORC iron sand mineral resources of 1,698Mt at 11.16% Fe2O3 for the Mine Area and adjacent Kupe Blocks at a 3.5% Davis Tube Recovery cutoff and a further 2,137Mt at 9.66% Fe2O3 for Stage 2 Block mine areas.

The sand will be processed aboard a purpose-built 345-metre integrated mining vessel, whose construction TTR would start soon. The company expects to begin exporting iron ore from the site to Asia in 2020.

The decision around the proposed offshore mining project, however, comes following months of debates and consultations, and it was not unanimous. Some members of the EPA’s Decision-making Committee did not agree in the final deliberations, citing concerns over localised adverse environmental effects.

“The committee’s rationale for granting consent is set out in the over 300-page decision document and includes conditions and operating constraints to limit the scale, intensity and duration of the discharge effects of residual material to the seabed, known as sediment plume, as well as impacts on marine mammals,” the agency’s report reads.

In response, TTR’s Executive Chairman, Alan Eggers, sent out a press release stating that his company has undertaken “extensive marine environmental work in the STB” and that he is convinced that a low impact sustainable export industry can function in the area.

But environmentalist groups such as Kiwis Against Seabed Mining do not buy Eggers’ idea and are threatening with legal actions.

“We have to take the only responsible route here by appealing this decision, on behalf of the future of our coastal peoples and environment, the blue whales, Maui dolphins and little penguins. We saw at least 13,700 people object to this proposal, and the only logical next step is to challenge that decision on their behalf,” said KASM Chairperson, Phil McCabe, in a statement.

McCabe also said that his organization cannot believe that government officials gave a go-ahead to what they call an experimental industry. “We have no choice but to lodge an appeal,” he added.

Previous to this new development, scientists working with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research also voiced their concerns over mining operations within New Zealand’s EEZ.

According to their studies, unique seafloor communities could be at risk of disappearing if deep-sea mining activities take place in the area.