Seabed mining: ‘I see us taking the lead’

Saturday October 05, 2019 Written by Published in Economy
The multi-agency Cook Islands government team at sea aboard a research vessel. Eusenio Fatialofa (CIIC), Rima Browne (SBMA), Chloe Wragg (MMR) Junior Tapoki (NES). 19100490 The multi-agency Cook Islands government team at sea aboard a research vessel. Eusenio Fatialofa (CIIC), Rima Browne (SBMA), Chloe Wragg (MMR) Junior Tapoki (NES). 19100490

The Cook Islands will be ready to harvest precious metals from the ocean floor in just five years.

Despite calls for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining in the Pacific to allow time to conduct more environmental research, the Cooks are set to be the frontier of the new goldrush.

With government insisting aid money will dry up because of the country’s graduation as a developed nation, the government says funding for expensive explorations into seabed mining will be harder to access.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown said he had received information from the Asian Development Bank that they were now looking at classifying the Cook Islands differently from small developing states because of our high income status. That meant borrowing from the bank would become more expensive to access.

That was exactly why seabed mining was vital for the country’s financial security and to contribute the revenue to climate change resilience. 

“We can't just sit back and expect good things to happen for the country and I see us a taking the lead,” said Brown.

Another integral part of seabed mining exploration phase will follow the Marae Moana legislation which was designed to look at the multi-use of our ocean and designating the 50 nautical miles around each island to be protected.

Now Maria Tuoro will be taking up Marae Moana’s initiatives including the spatial and geographical information systems to make informed decisions about ocean activity.

The MV Grinna II returned at the end of last month from its scientific voyage into the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone aimed at collecting and analysing Manganese Nodules. This exploration was a major step for the venture as there has been no scientific research or assessment of the Cook Islands Polymetallic Manganese Nodules resource in over 30 years. 

Cook Islanders have been involved in the latest deep sea research, using a local vessel chartered from Taio Shipping, along with locally employed crew and technical officers.

The Research team included four Cook Islanders, Eusenio Fatialofa, engineer from Cook Islands Investment Cooperation, Rima Browne, Officer from the Seabed Minerals Authority, Junior Tapoki, Compliance Officer from National Environment Service and Chloe Wragg, Fisheries Officer from the Ministry of Marine Resources.

Research tools known as Free Fall Grabs were used to collect the nodules; the 15 Free Fall Grabs were manufactured by local company Raro Welding, based on existing designs.

From over 400 kg of nodules collected on the exploration, only 9 kg could be collected in one grab, which took three hours to reach the seafloor at a depth of over 4000 metres.

Some samples had been sent to Belgium for further assessment and research and some samples were being retained by the Seabed Minerals Authority for future outreach and community awareness programs.

This completed research survey was undertaken under a research permit from the Cook Islands Research Committee.

For engineer Eusenio Fatialofa, this voyage represented his third deep sea mineral expedition, but his first in Cook Island waters.

“It was different to be out on Cook Islands waters and great to be closer to home working and researching our own resource. It was cool to be out there in our EEZ, and I was especially thankful for the experience to be working with other Cook Islanders on a survey for the first time”.

He had previously been on two expeditions in the last two years in the Cook Islands’ International Seabed Authority Contract area in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, situated south-east of the Hawaiian Islands. 

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