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Seabed mining, it could be coming to an ocean near you

There is a steam train gaining momentum, heading for the bottom of the world’s oceans. Standing in its way is a wall of ocean lovers. One of them, Phil McCabe, tells us of the battle against seabed mining.

With the plundering of most of the world’s land-based mineral deposits, the new frontier for the global mining industry is seabed mining. Almost every government with rights over marine areas are currently clambering to enable this destructive practice, still in its experimental phase, to take place in their waters and the scale of what is proposed in International Waters is alarming.

To the dismay of those powering the momentum behind seabed mining, there is a small group of ocean-loving people who are fighting them every step of the way – and winning. Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASMfought the first two applications for open-cast mining of the seafloor in New Zealand and the developed world. Both were denied by the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority in 2014. This embarrassed the country’s government, cost mining companies tens of millions of dollars and sent tsunami-sized shock waves through the emerging international seabed mining industry.

new zealand seabed mining
Coastal view, Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand © IngImage

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining

KASM is a volunteer-run community organisation that was formed in 2005 after members from the local indigenous Maori community alerted others of seabed mining proposals off the coast of Raglan, on the North Island’s west coast. The town is famous for its world-class surf and as well as its social and environmental activism.

With seabed mining proposals stretching nearly 1000 kilometres of coastline, KASM rallied coastal communities to stand together in an unbroken chain of protection for their marine environment. A Community of Concern was formed. When the first application was made to mine the seabed for iron ore, which would have sucked up 50 million tonnes of the seabed every year for twenty years, record numbers of people stood up and opposed it.

On a shoestring budget KASM cobbled together an excellent legal and scientific team who fought for the oceans and against all odds won the hearing process. A global precedent was set. A bright light was shone on the highly destructive nature of the untested, money-making scheme.

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Kiwis Against Seabed Mining won a hearing process against seabed mining, setting a global precedent © KASM

Shortly after, the second application in the developed world was submitted in New Zealand once again, off the east coast of the South Island. The company was targeting phosphate to be used for fertilizer. This time KASM joined Greenpeace and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, forming another legal and scientific team. The fishing industry and the South Island Maori tribe, Ngai Tahu also fought the application.

Again the New Zealand EPA found that the company couldn’t prove that their proposal wouldn’t cause serious and irreversible damage to the marine environment. The application was denied.

Is seabed mining inherently destructive?

Two applications, two refusals: the global seabed mining industry took a serious blow. These were followed by another denial, this time by Mexican authorities earlier this year for a proposed phosphate mine off the coast of Baja California.

seabed mining new zealand
Protests against seabed mining © KASM

This all leads to a very big question: is seabed mining so inherently destructive that it simply can not take place in this day and age, a time when humanity is recognising that we can no longer “wreck” the environment for profit and that we, collectively, need to be working to repair the damage from our past actions? The answer could well be determined in the next few months, KASM is once again fighting for the safeguard of the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The same company that was denied two years ago has re-submitted the same proposal.

The process has just begun and KASM is calling for public submissions and seeking donations to help pay for legal and scientific expertise. If you feel strongly about maintaining healthy oceans for future generations, become an Ocean Lover. Make a submission here, be another brick in the wall and help KASM stop this destructive train from reaching our oceans.

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