28 August 2012
A petition bearing more than 8000 signatures is being circulated among Forum participants this week as part of a regional effort to arrest seabed mining projects in the Pacific.
A coalition of non-government organisations, which includes the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Act Now! PNG, is here on Rarotonga to raise awareness about deep seabed mining in the Pacific, taking advantage of the opportunity to reach leaders from around the region who are gathering for the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum.
Their petition is based on a legal opinion from US-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (eLAW) that the
“precautionary principle” – the theory that if an action or policy is suspected of being harmful to the public or environment and there is no scientific consensus, those people or groups taking the action have a responsibility to prove it is not – applies to seabed mining in the Pacific.
The opinion concludes: “There is great uncertainty whether undersea ecosystems, especially vent features that have been created over thousands of years, can withstand the damage and destruction caused by deep seabed mining.
“In accordance with the precautionary principle, Pacific Island nations should follow the example set by Australia’s northern territory and institute a moratorium on deep seabed mining. The risks and uncertainties of seabed mining are too great to allow mining activities to proceed with the expectation that the damage can be reversed”.
PANG coordinator Maureen Penjuli convened a press conference with Pacific media today to talk about the petition and publicly launch the eLAW legal opinion.
She is alarmed at the pace of an SPC deep sea minerals project – which is providing technical assistance to the 15
Pacific-ACP states, of which the Cook Islands is one – as she says it is proceeding too quickly for her coalition to be able to raise ample regional awareness of its petition in time.
That’s why she considers it paramount to be present at this week’s Forum.
Penjuli today launched eLAW’s 10-page legal opinion, which does not condemn mining activity, but supports a moratorium until gaps in the research and science around deep seabed mining have been filled.
At present Tonga, Nauru and the Cook Islands are pursuing exploratory mining programmes, and a Korean company is reportedly in the process of procuring a licence to mine in Fiji’s seabed.
Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to mining 50km off the coast New Britain island in Papua New Guinea, where communities are rallying to protest against the political processes that led to the licensing of the project and mining in general.
The area being marked off for exploration of mining potential in the region is twice the size of the combined land mass of all Pacific nations.
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.