Niwa will help a deep-sea mining company reduce potential damage from its Pacific Ocean seabed mining project.
The Crown Research Institute will help assess and manage the environmental impacts of the Metals Company’s planned mining of the Clarion Clipperton area, an area of international seas east of Kiribati.
The emerging industry has divided the nations of the Pacific. Nauru and Kiribati have sponsored mining projects, and the Cook Islands approved three exploration licenses in February.
Four countries – Palau, Samoa, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia – have created an alliance of countries that want a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
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New Zealand has taken part in negotiations to put deep sea mining laws in place at the International Seabed Authority (ISA), and can request that no such mining take place if the negotiations fail to produce “effective” environmental protection.
Earlier this week, The Metals Company announced on the Nasdaq stock exchange that Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and Niwa would help it with an environmental management plan for mining activity in the Clarion Clipperton area.
The work would “form the scientific basis for a state-of-the-art predictive system” that would mitigate “as much as possible” the impact of mining, the company said.
Nauru, Kiribati and Tonga have all sponsored the Metals Company’s proposed mining project for metal-rich nodules found on the ocean floor.
A Niwa spokeswoman confirmed that the agency was helping the mining company. She did not respond directly to questions about why Niwa was helping the mining company, whether she was being paid, or whether government agencies supported the decision.
The Guardian reported that the Metals Company was paying the Australian agency and Niwa $1.5 million.
“Niwa provides independent, objective and world-class environmental research with world-renowned experts. Niwa’s science and guidance then inform policy and decision-making,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Green Party spokesperson for the oceans, Eugenie Sage, said a growing body of research showed that noise from seabed mining affects marine mammals and creates damaging sediment plumes.
“We don’t want seabed mining to start because the oceans are under enormous pressure due to absorbing 90% of the heat due to global warming, increased ocean acidification due to to carbon dioxide, overfishing, plastic pollution, they don’t need the added pressure of seabed mining.
“And it continues this really exploitative approach to the oceans, rather than looking at how can we recover these precious metals from electronic waste, tons of which go to landfill every year.”
She asked if NIWA was involved in the government’s negotiations at the International Seabed Authority. That would amount to a “conflict of interest,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the ministry had not discussed with NIWA its decision to help the mining company, as NIWA enjoyed operational independence from the government.
The spokesman said NIWA was not part of the New Zealand delegation to the ISA negotiations. A NIWA expert, Malcolm Clark, was a member of the ISA’s Legal and Technical Committee.
The government’s position was that, in international waters, “deep sea mining should not take place unless we can ensure the effective protection of the marine environment”, the spokesman said.
“If ongoing negotiations at the ISA do not result in effective protection of the marine environment, New Zealand will call for no deep sea mining to occur.”
The offices of Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Minister Ayesha Verrall, head of the Crown Research Institutes, did not respond to a request for comment.