There is a growing momentum in the Pacific against deep sea mining and if the slide continues in this direction, there could be a blanket ban on the practice.
Palau, Fiji and Samoa have formed an alliance and announced their opposition to deep sea mining, calling for a moratorium on the emerging industry amidst growing fears it will destroy the seafloor and damage biodiversity.
There has been call made to nations like Nauru, Cook Islands, Kiribati and Tonga to abandon their plans for deep-sea mining in their territorial waters.
The alliance was announced just as a United Nations Ocean Conference kicked off in Lisbon, Portugal.
This comes off the back of mounting opposition to deep sea mining with Chile announcing support for a 15 year moratorium earlier this month, and Tuvalu rescinding sponsorship for mining.
Fiji has already stated that there was a complete ban on deep sea mining in its waters. Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner James Hita is describing the new alliance as ‘absolutely monumental’.
He called on the New Zealand Government to take a strong stand on the issue.
“The message from our Pacific neighbours is clear, we need urgent action on deep sea mining to protect the ocean that connects and nourishes us,” said Mr Hita.
“Deep sea mining is a threat to us all, the ocean is home to over 90% of life on earth and is one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change.
“The New Zealand government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to help stop this destructive extractive industry before it starts.”
Greenpeace launched a petition this month calling on the New Zealand government and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta to support a ban on deep sea mining in the Pacific and around the world. The petition has so far attracted 7,000 signatures.
Recent studies have shown the Pacific to be rich in minerals which are being sought after for its use in technological advances and manufacture.
These include nickel, cobalt, manganese and even fossil fuel.
In the Cook Islands massive amounts of manganese and cobalt nodules are lying on the seafloor at depths of 5000m.
Tonga, Nauru and Kiribati are looking to sponsor exploration activities in the Clarion Clipperton Zone which borders the territorial waters of these countries, and there is also an abundance of precious metals on this part of the ocean floor.
Chair of the Pacific Parliamentarians Alliance on Deep Sea Mining Ralph Regenvanu has echoed sentiments of the Pacific needing to have one stand when it comes to deep sea mining.
“We aim to encourage our fellow Pacific states that have indicated an interest in pursuing deep-sea mining to stop, and to join us in taking a precautionary approach as a region, and as a world,” he said at a side event at the UNOC.
“I appeal to the Republic of Nauru, the Cook Islands, the Republic of Kiribati and the Kingdom of Tonga to follow the lead of Tuvalu and to draw back from the brink.
“Worse still, deep-sea mining will disturb the largest and most stable carbon sink we have, and in the event that mining accidentality hits a methane seep on the ocean floor, scientists warn of ‘doomsday climatic scenarios.”
Deep sea mining is a destructive and untested industry where minerals are sucked up from the ocean floor and waste materials pumped back into the ocean leaving a sediment plume that smothers marine life, threatening vulnerable ecosystems, fisheries and people’s way of life.
Disruptions to the ocean floor may also reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon, adding to the climate crisis.
Without action from governments to stop it, mining of the deep seas in the Pacific could begin as early as mid-2023. The lure of the money could sway some nations.
Scientists warn that deep sea mining will result in an irreversible loss of biodiversity and could threaten other benefits to humanity, including future medicines and fisheries for tuna and other species.
The alliance between Palau, Fiji and Samoa was made by Palau’s President Surangel Whipps Jr at an event co-hosted by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and the World Wildlife Fund as part of a side event at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon.
It comes after Vanuatu previously declared its opposition to deep sea mining and it was banned in the Australian states of New South Wales and the Northern Territory earlier this year.