The rush of one branch of government to exploit mineral resources from the deep seabed is proceeding, without the adoption of measures to regulate all activities within the EEZ, and with complete disregard for the conservation that would be assumed for any comparable terrestrial activity.
Surface mining of the deep seabed will be blind, and damage caused by it will be indiscriminate, catastrophic and long-term. This type of mining will alter geochemistry and potentially cause the extinction of unique microbial flora. There is a need to protect flora and fauna of the seabed because so much of it is unknown.
The limited range of studies carried out so far, most funded by the New Zealand government, suggest that the deep sea biomes around New Zealand are of comparable richness to tropical forests. So to allow the mining of these systems would be similar to tropical rain forest destruction, something that the government has opposed vigorously.
The government has inconsistent and conflicting methods of managing the natural resources of the deepsea that change from one activity to another. Conservation cannot proceed because the Marine Reserves Bill has been repeatedly delayed, yet mining is allowed to proceed without any form of adequate regulation.
The Neptune prospecting licence contains no reference to any laws or regulations, that address measures to prevent, reduce, control or monitor pollution of the marine environment from mining operations.
The sensitivity of seamount ecosystems has previously been recognised, though inadequately. Nineteen seamounts including the Rumble III and Brothers seamounts on the Kermadec Ridge, were closed to fishing in September 2000 by the Minister of Fisheries, Pete Hodgson, to safeguard the marine life and habitats they support.
It is widely accepted that bottom trawling is destructive of sensitive seamount ecosystems. Yet mineral mining which is equally destructive, if not more so, is now being pursued on Kermadec seamounts. The initial mineral deposits found by Neptune Resources were at the Brothers seamount.
The previously closed seamounts were selected according to a draft seamount management strategy developed by the Ministry of Fisheries, with the assistance of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Action by one Ministry was quickly compromised by another within just two years.
Recently, when addressing the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council Conference, the Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter, said the view of the government is that our marine area is as deserving of protection as our land area. He pointed out that 14 National Parks are now recognised as social, economic and scientific assets that almost all New Zealanders enjoy and celebrate. The Minister very accurately added that the same is not the case in the sea.
With a massive scale of mining about to occur, the need for laws and regulations governing all activities in the EEZ is overdue. Why does New Zealand have controls on land with the Resource Management Act, but no similar process at sea? The same standards of environmental assessment, and project review that are applied on land, must be enacted for the ocean within New Zealand's jurisdiction.
The features and full potential of all aspects of deep seabed ecosystems must be considered by the New Zealand government, in designing a comprehensive management framework. This requires a precautionary approach as well as an ecosystem approach.
In establishing a regime addressing the exploitation of deep seabed resources, it should be considered that appropriation of these ecosystems and resources to private interests, may not be the correct action with respect to their scientific and human welfare contributions.