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Will NZ Supreme Court decision affect Nauru’s push for deep sea mining?

A Supreme Court decision against a seabed mining proposal off the western coast of New Zealand’s North Island could set a precedent over the practice going ahead in the Pacific Ocean.

This comes after Nauru has already sought to expedite deep sea mining in a UN platform to benefit the fledging industry that many others in the Pacific are against.

“Accessing these polymetallic nodule resources is critical to building the clean energy transitions we need, and towards a circular economy,” Nauru president Lionel Aingimea told the UN General Assembly.

“These polymetallic nodules are needed to transform big and small countries’ energy systems, and support our fight against the climate crisis.”

The mining of polymetallic nodules found on the deepest seabed of the ocean known to contain key metals such as manganese, ganesenickel, copper, cobalt and other minerals and are used in lithium-ion batteries.

The application to the court from Trans-Tasman Research company was its second unsuccessful application and the third overall to have failed to pass the New Zealand courts since 2013.

The court ruled that seabed mining will cause “material damage” to the environment.

The company was “totally absent” on providing adequate information of the impacts on the local seabirds and marine mammals.

The UN convention on Law of the Sea’s article 145 requires effective protection for the marine environment from harmful effects.

The planned operation in the South Taranaki Bight would have dug up 50 million tonnes of seabed annually for 35 years, hitting five million tonnes of iron ore while dumping the rest back into the ocean.

Maersk Launcher
The Maersk Launcher. Source: NORI – Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. Facebook.

Nauru requested in June that the International Seabed Authority complete an adoption of rules on the practice so it can award out a commercial mining contract.

It comes amid a warning from a number of ocean scientists and environmentalists that should the ISA proceed, mining could commence within two years before enough is known of its impacts.

Tonga, Cook Islands and Kiribati has joined Nauru in sponsoring exploration activities in the Clarion Clipperton Zone, a geological submarine fracture zone that stretches over 7000 kilometres which borders the territorial waters of a number of Pacific nations.

But Fiji refuses to support its neighbours, already steadfast against the practice after banning deep sea mining in its waters.

“Humanity is not above nature. We are part of it. And the arrogance of thinking otherwise is costing us dearly,” Fijian prime minister Frank Bainimarama told a conservation event on the sidelines of the UN general assembly.

“Fiji is committed to the 100 percent sustainable management of the ocean, with 30 per cent declared as marine protected areas. We have banned deep sea mining in Fijian waters.”

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