From Phil McCabe 

Wannabe seabed mining company, Trans Tasman Resources (TTR), has laid out its proposal for a massive, first-of-its-kind in the world mine – on the seabed of the South Taranaki Bight (STB) off the coast of Patea. 

Their proposal quite simply asks too much of the coastal residents most likely to feel the effects of this proposed offshore mine. It asks too much of the New Zealand public at large and I reckon it also asks too much of the four members of the Decision Making Committee (DMC) appointed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and charged with the unenviable task of assessing the application.The Process of Seabed Mining

TTR have done relatively little in the way of on-site, hard research into the life that currently exists in and around the proposed mining area, particularly when compared to their dedicated efforts in identifying the targeted economic resource.

The company failed in its first attempt to gain consent in 2014, and the EPA decision was very clear in pointing out that TTR should do more research in several areas, including marine mammal research.

They have not done that work, work that may or may not have provided all of us with a greater level of comfort around their plans.

In this, their second application, they instead chose to pursue a line that portrays lesser potential impacts overall. How did they do this? They selected a very few core samples of seabed sediment from earlier work and sent them to a lab in the UK where tests were performed in total isolation from the environment in question, completely out of sight, and without input from other interested parties.

It may not sound like a big deal, but the results from these tests set the absolute foundation upon which most of the assessments of the environmental effects relating to the proposal are built.  We don’t know that these three samples properly represent the marine environment that will be dug up for 35 years. There is no transparency.

The results of these remote lab tests inform the inputs to the company’s computer modelling, which supposes to tell us the size and density of the sediment “plume” created in the water table from dumping 45 million tonnes of mine tailings into the marine environment per year for up to 35 years.

A significant portion of the damaging environmental effects relate to the size, content and density of the plume.

Thing is, the computer modeling is just that … computer modeling. But we don’t know whether the information that has gone into those models is the right information.   “Rubbish in = rubbish out” is an oft-repeated phrase by those involved with these types of tools.

So when the decisionmakers in this process – and all of us who are engaging – are being asked to form an opinion on TTR’s proposal, first, we are being asked to make assessments based mostly on modelled representations of what might occur. This in itself is a big ask, but add into the mix the fact that there is a lack of transparency around that information – and it becomes entirely too big an ask. 

In contrast, experts presenting on behalf of the most active opponents of the application, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), have delivered actual hard evidence collected from the field near the mining site, showing a high presence of Blue Whales and specific targeting of the area for feeding by Little Blue Penguins. This evidence can be relied upon without question. 

They haven’t presented “models” or “projections” like the company has done – they have reported what they have seen with their own eyes, unlike what TTR is using to try to convince us that this massive, decades-long operation will have little to no effect.

These species use the area at least regularly, perhaps constantly, and hypotheses can be drawn from these findings that the area surrounding and including the mining area performs a unique and important function supporting life occurring throughout the South Taranaki Bight.

Evidence from recreational and commercial fishers at the hearing supports this hypothesis.

Further, TTR are requesting permission to do the baseline research work, – identifying what exists in the area – for two years after they are given consent.

“What? … tell us what’s there after we give them permission to mine 50 million tonnes of seabed a year for 35 years?” I hear you say. I had the same confused reaction when I first heard the request. 

Granted, at this point in time it is a difficult task to predict a great deal of the potential effects of this proposal. But that is precisely the point. 

Right now, we simply do not know enough about what exists in the local marine environment, nor how the myriad of life existing there interacts with each other and the surrounding environment, nor what role the area in question plays in the greater South Taranaki Bight ecosystem, nor the importance that the Bight plays in supporting vulnerable resident and transient species populations.

Everything in the marine environment is connected. We know little about it, and if we tinker with one component, we can expect knock-on effects, but we actually have no way of determining with adequate certainty what those knock on effects would look like.

That is where we are at in this hearing.

Too little is known and, for this reason, as the previous DMC stated in their 2014 decision, this application is at best, premature.

This week, the hearing of this application moves to New Plymouth where TTR and the EPA will hear the views of local Iwi, members of the public and local authorities.

Expect resistance.