Cook Islands hosts deep sea minerals meeting
Cook Islands hosting deep sea minerals meeting as groups push for consultation.
A regional meeting in Rarotonga this week has 60 delegates looking at ways to manage the future mining of deep sea minerals.
Lucrative minerals on the seabed are said to be a game-changer for the Pacific, although many are concerned that the profits may not reach the people.
Alex Perrottet reports.
Even though commercial seabed mining, or so-called harvesting, is still some years off, scientists and officials have been talking about it for a long time. The project director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Deep Sea Minerals project, Akuila Tawake, says he has faith in countries to handle the royalties well.
AKUILA TAWAKE: Exploration activities may take an additional three or five or even 10 years, so within that time I am sure most of the countries will put in place relevant legislation and regulations and laws to govern their deep sea minerals resources.
A Cook Islands opposition MP, Wilkie Rasmussen, says it wasn't easy to gain access to this week's meeting, but is thankful the organisers recognised that interests from the outer island had a right to be heard.
WILKIE RASMUSSEN: I remain open with the exploratory licences, if there are people interested in applying for that, I remain open for that, but I'd like to know what would be the ramifications first, you don't just enter into something that you might regret afterwards.
Teina Mackenzie is a board member of the environmental group Te Ipukarea Cook Islands Society, and has been presenting at the meeting. She says there needs to be a regional approach and environmental impacts in particular can spread from country to country. She says people need to be informed so they can make good decisions.
TEINA MACKENZIE: There has been a bit piecemeal, but there hasn't been a dedicated schedule for effective consultation and that really needs to be put in place to formally and openly inform communities and engage and address their concerns. Now that needs to happen before we can you know, say definitely that this is what people are concerned about.
Teina Mackenzie says she is concerned that the precautionary principle allows exploitation in the absence of scientific research.
TEINA MACKENZIE: You know it's almost like chicken and egg sometimes, you need to have the science to make safe and astute decisions on development. There is still a lot of what I would say, field work, a lot that we need to know first. There's a weakness in the principle in that it would allow, in the absence of science and data, it would still allow development so we have to be very careful.
But the Cook Islands has led the way with legislation and an authority already in place. The Finance Minister, Mark Brown, says the motivation was the failure of Pacific governments in the past.
MARK BROWN: The challenge will be in making sure that those resources and that wealth is managed in a way that encourages good sustainable growth for the countries and is not squandered in ways that we've seen in other countries in the past, in the Pacific.
Akuila Tawake says fisheries are concerned that mining might affect tuna stocks. He says the fish stocks are found in the first 500 metres, while harvesting will take place at about 1,600 metres' depth, and in the Cook Islands waters, it's more likely to be at 4,000-6,000 metres' depth, but he says, as with everything else, more studies are needed.
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