Since Wednesday, New Zealand has been celebrating a great victory for its oceans and the coastal communities living on the eastern shores of Pacific Island. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) refused marine consent to mine phosphorite nodules on the Chatham Rise, an area of ocean floor to the east of New Zealand, forming part of the Zealandia continent. It is also New Zealand’s most productive and important commercial fishing zone.
The official decision from the Decision-making Committee (DMC) was announced on the basis of the argument for which “mining would cause significant and permanent adverse effects on the existing benthic environment.” Also, the economic value of the project for New Zealand has been assessed as “moderate,” which is yet another reason leading to the final position taken by the DMC.
Bringing this experience from the Pacific Ocean across to Europe, the decision by New Zealand’s authorities’ is definitely a positive example to follow in other parts of the world. It is a timely decision to consider for the European Commission, when building its position on this highly controversial topic.
What can Europe learn from this?
Some time ago, we encouraged you to actively contribute to a public consultation launched by the Directorate General for Maritime Affaires and Fisheries of the European Commission between March and June 2014 on seabed mining.
The “Say NO to deep-sea mining” campaign has gathered 206 replies with a representative selection of private bodies, public authorities, researchers and replies. The European Commission has published the contributions of the public consultation, and it will soon reveal a policy position and further steps on deep-sea mining operations in Europe.
Deep-sea mining is an emerging sector that poses a number of so far unanswered questions on the environmental risks and specifically on sustainability in its wider scale. Together with other environmental organizations, Oceana Europe participated in a mutual dialogue with EU policy-makers organized in November 2014 in Brussels. The aim of the meeting was to exchange views and strengthen partnership with NGOs in order to raise the voice of conservation organizations during the ongoing policy processes.
Engaging the wider public in the decision-making process is yet another plea from environmental groups. As for now, no public debates have been launched on the societal impacts of the deep-sea mining activities, even though its effects could be disastrous for many businesses, and could threaten access to seafood in many places. Undeniably, the impacts of mining operations will also influence consumer’s concerns about seafood quality.
On the question: “Will deep-sea mining ensure a healthy and productive marine environment in the long term?” — scientists and marine biologists have just one thing to say: “The undeniable answer, is no.”