Representatives from United States-based company Ocean Minerals LLC (OML), which has an option on exploring the possibility of seabed mining in Cook Islands waters, are to visit Rarotonga next month.
Last year, the company signed a deal worth $100,000 to reserve an area of around 23,000 square kilometres containing high-value polymetallic (manganese) nodules for up to 18 months, Cook Islands News reports.
They have until April next year to make an application to begin exploration work within the Cook Islands EEZ. The visit comes soon after the European Parliament called for a moratorium on seabed mining.
In January it passed a resolution that “calls on the (European) Commission and (European Union) member states to support an international moratorium on commercial deep-sea mining exploitation licenses until such time as the effects of deep-sea mining on the marine environment, biodiversity and human activities at sea have been studied and researched sufficiently and all possible risks are understood.”
Paul Lynch, commissioner of the Seabed Minerals Authority in the Cook Islands said any mining operations in local waters remained a long way off.
And he explained that “exploitation”, which is what European legislators want to halt, was very different to “exploration”, which is what is currently being considered for the Cook Islands.
Exploration involves short term scientific research to understand the viability of any mining proposal, and also involves assessing what impact it might have on the seabed and environment. Exploitation is the final stage and involves the actual removal of minerals from the seabed and could last for many decades.
Indeed, a desire to understand the effects of deep-sea mining or exploitation could be interpreted as a call for more knowledge to be gained from exploration projects.
Lynch said he was confident that the Cook Islands was approaching the issue in a responsible way, having passed the Seabed Minerals Act in 2009 – the world’s first national legislation dedicated to regulating seabed minerals activities.
“We have a world class regulatory framework to deal with the potential risks. And that is why we want to first seek exploration applications, over the next three to five years, so we can see if it is viable for the country, in terms of benefits and sustainability. The contractor also needs to determine its own costs and benefits perspective.”
He added that any subsequent mining operations were still five to eight years away and would adhere to “best international practice and high environmental principles in collaboration with Marae Moana”.