The Democratic Party has made fresh calls against government’s proposed seabed mining initiative over long-term environment impacts.
But scientists are deflating concerns, especially of carbon emissions from the seabed.
The Democratic Party is supporting calls of a 10-year moratorium and have urged government to be cautious and transparent as on the impacts of seabed mining.
Democratic Party Opposition leader Tina Browne said a precautionary approach would afford Pacific island countries, including the Cook Islands, time to gather and learn from more scientific data that would have been updated between 2021 to 2030.
Browne urged the government to be completely transparent and rigidly cautious about any ventures to exploit the Cook Islands seabed and harvest stocks of manganese nodules which are concentrated in the South Penrhyn Basin.
“After attending the recent regional meeting in Tahiti which addressed this issue, I am aware of the shared concerns about the impact mining will have on the marine environment and possible irreversible destruction of our ocean floor. There are just too many unknowns at this stage to be rushing into this, possibly sacrificing our ocean environment for money,” Browne said.
However, director of the Cook Islands National Heritage Trust Gerald McCormack, said seabed mining in the South Penrhyn Basin would not have a significant effect on the climate crisis.
McCormack’s assessment has been seconded by Professor Bramley Murton, chief scientist, Marine Minerals Team from the National Oceanography Centre in the UK.
“The nodule fields are found in areas of the seafloor where there is very low inorganic and organic carbon. Extraction of the nodules will not, therefore, release carbon from the ocean floor,” said Professor Murton.
McCormack, who is encouraging a precautionary approach, said it was important that mining proposals report on how their activities might alter the distribution of carbon which should be considered in an Environmental Impact Assessment before being approved.
Professor Murton said “More work needs to be done, especially in terms of defining the size and location of protected set-aside areas to protect species, as Gerald McCormack says.
“Experiments have been done that show the toxicity of ferromanganese nodule material on photosynthesising microscopic plant plankton is also low. The reason being that the metals in ferromanganese nodule material are already fully oxidised, are hence very stable in seawater and of limited biological availability.”
He added if there were an accidental spillage of nodule material into the sea, its impact on the ecosystem would be low.