A call for Pacific unity to benefit from seabed mining plans
The Global Ocean Commission says island countries in the Pacific must have a voice in discussions on seabed mining in the international waters that surround them.
A commissioner with the newly formed Global Ocean Commission says island countries in the Pacific must have a voice in discussions on seabed mining in the international waters that surround them.
Former Ulu of Tokelau, Faipule Foua Toloa, says island countries are not ready for the impact of mining on the sea floor, whether it is in their coastal waters, within their exclusive economic zones or the high seas.
He says companies expect to make billions of dollars from the mining of minerals deposited on the seafloor and the island countries should receive some of this.
Faipule Foua says there are also concerns of environmental impact that need to be answered before mining starts.
He told Don Wiseman the small island states must have a say.
FAIPULE FOUA TOLOA: They must have a say. It's the Pacific. The area where the mining is happening, is occurring, that's where most of the deposits are. So if it's the international waters, this particular area runs through the Pacific, almost the rest of the Pacific. So it's not only an EEZ, but also in international waters. And that is the function - when it comes to international seabed mining - that is the function of this UN agency, International Seabed Authority. It's their job to actually licenses, as well as exploration licenses, and also come up with a formula of how the revenue from this is divided amongst developing countries. I know they haven't come up with any, but this is the area whereby the Pacific has to be united in whatever approach will be taken because it's just at their back door.
DON WISEMAN: The commitment by the International Seabed Authority is that the money should go to developing countries.
FFT: It's in the convention. It is a part of the convention of the international Law of the Sea that whatever proceeds you get from actually the mining of the seabed, it should be distributed equally to all the developing countries. Now, the definition of all those has to be sorted. Who are the developing countries? And what formula are you going to use to split that up? So this is why the issue of a united Pacific has come up, because they will come down so hard, they want to make sure that their huge investments will be covered and a little bit of profit. Where would the Pacific come in, in terms when they don't have a say, they're not aware of these issues and they cannot engage these particular issues to actually talk about?
DW: So is this a role for the Pacific Islands Forum?
FFT: Absolutely, absolutely. It has been discussed in a few forums. I think also it's also in the agenda of the Pacific Islands Forum. The mining project up in PNG, I believe it should be operational now, you know? They have been creating futuristic machines to actually go underneath the water and begin extracting these things.
DW: There are a lot of concerns about the environmental damage in a pristine piece of water.
FFT: You look at the biodiversity convention, you look at the pharmaceutical resources that we can get from the ocean. Now, if you begin extracting it from the ocean, what are the adverse affects? Now, there are living things living at that depth and we all understand that whether it be the depth of 1,600 feet, whether it's the 200 miles Economic Zone and whether it's territorial waters or inshore waters, there is a connectivity of the system that biological assists each other, in terms of the current, the movement of all the food, plankton and everything. So there is connectivity. You think of the blooms that may come as a result - sedimentation, siltation, when you begin extracting these things. We have to also look into the problems of environment degradation.
DW: The other thing is if the small island countries can win a significant percentage of profits from this is what to do with that and to ensure there's money in perpetuity.
FFT: You know, I think the Norwegians gave us a very good example. The oil that they were rigging from the oil rigs way back all these years ago, they invested a percentage of that into a trust fund which is sitting at more than $700 billion. What a decisive, future-looking thought for those people that did that. So the Pacific, this is an opportunity for our people, our future generations. We're struggling with getting money for climate change and all that kind of stuff. What a good decision for the Pacific to look at.
DW: So the Global Oceans Commission, with you on it, this is very much a central concern now.
FFT: The Global Oceans Commission was set up with a mandate to make recommendations because of the status of the ocean focusing on high seas and international waters. This is where all this cowboy business is going on, because it's so degrading. There is nobody directly responsible for managing them, so it's everybody's land and nobody is responsible. So it's focusing on international waters. Because there are so many things - illegal fishing is happening, slavery is happening... all sorts of things, even drugs and smuggling is happening in the high seas. I think the formulation or the establishment of the commission, although it's short-lived, it has to be done. Everyone has to put up his hand to be part of this global initiative because we don't know where to push this responsibility because the international Law of the Sea doesn't address the management aspect of high seas.
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