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Blog: How did we end up back here?

Updated: Mar 16


The KASM team in Whaingaroa/Raglan after we won the first round against TTR


By Cindy Baxter, KASM Chairperson


I'm here in Hawera, South Taranaki, preparing for day one of our third Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) hearing on seabed mining. How on did we all end up back here?  


It's been six years since the EPA, in August 2017, gave seabed miners Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) a (very dodgy) green light to mine the South Taranaki Bight. It's now over 10 years since TTR first applied in 2013. And while they're still not mining, the threat of it now appears to be bigger than ever.


That EPA consent - including its 109 conditions - has been quashed by three courts: the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. In light of its very strong decision, the Supreme Court sent it back to the EPA for reconsideration, here we all are in Hawera.


At least this time the hearings will be held in an area where the destruction will make the biggest impact if this insanity goes ahead, where the strongest opposition is - for good reason. This is Iwi Ngati Ruanui's rohe, and their coastline, and, in quashing the consent, the Supreme Court firmly stated that tikanga law must be taken into account by decisionmakers, and tikanga-based customary rights and interests constitute “existing interests”.


The Supreme Court has set out a series of pretty strong criteria the company must meet in order to get its application - to dig up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year every year for 35 years (dumping 45 million tonnes a year back onto the seabed) - across the line.


 The criteria are simple, but clear:

 

  • TTR must prove the activity will create no "material harm"

  • If there is "material harm" TTR must prove they can remediate such harm, ie fix it

  • ·  if neither of those criteria above can be met, then the activity cannot go ahead.

 

We know there's all kinds of ocean life in the South Taranaki Bight ecosystem, from pygmy blue whales to little blue penguins, or kororā, Māui and Hector's dolphins, along with other seabirds,  corals and a range of fish populations. People here fish, they surf, they interact with the moana every day. But we don't know that much about it. And TTR hasn't done much to help us understand the Bight in more depth, let alone convince us it won't be harmed by decades of seabed mining.


TTR CEO Alan Eggars has made some pretty outrageous claims in the media in recent months. In November, he acknowledged to Newsroom that it was disruptive to the marine ecosystem: 


“In fact, it totally destroys it – in a very limited area for a very limited time... There’s very limited flora and fauna there anyway, because it’s literally black sand and very little grows. The ecology is limited to a few starfish and worms.


The problem is that TTR doesn’t actually know what is down there. It hasn’t done any survey work in the area, a point that the first EPA hearing on this application cited in its refusal to give the company consent.  Eggars goes on to say: 


“And yes, we destroy it. But it starts rehabilitating behind us within months. And within two years, it’s fully rehabilitated.”


He actually has no idea. TTR did do a little experiment in Wellington Harbour in an effort to replicate what might happen out in the Bight, it was in Wellington Harbour!  The scientific experts in the case - including TTR’s own experts, have agreed that this modelling was not applicable:  "the experimental outcomes are of no importance to the assessment of potential impacts from the Project".


This is not only true of the seafloor, but also of the impact on marine mammals like the pygmy blue whale population in the South Taranaki Bight (which have been addressed in a submission by our expert Dr Leigh Torres, who has published 10 peer reviewed papers on these whales, and studied them extensively), the kororā or blue penguin (which will be covered by our expert and penguin expert Prof John Cockrem), nor on corals. 


So we were very confused when we saw TTR’s submissions to this latest hearing, because their evidence largely resembles what it submitted in its 2016 application.  In fact, TTR has done very little new scientific work since its very first application in 2013 that would progress anybody’s understanding of the impact of seabed mining. 


So to have the CEO make these claims that it has been “proven safe” is an outright lie. 


Fast track legislation

 

TTR now clearly has its sights on getting this project across the line under the government’s new “fast track” legislation, which would see the company being able to bypass all the tests against law that it’s been put under over the past ten years, where it has come up wanting every single time. 

 

While we're not happy the Supreme Court judgment didn't just quash the company's consent to discharge pollution across the South Taranaki Bight, instead sending it back to the EPA, at least there will be a process that properly examines the science, what is known - and indeed what is unknown - about the impacts of seabed mining in Aotearoa.

 

For the government to then bypass - and ignore - this process and simply grant the company the right to mine would be an absolute travesty.

 

Since this process began, the company has been bought outright by an Australian company, Manuka Resources Ltd.  It can no longer claim that it's a "majority owned" New Zealand company. It doesn't even have a website.

 

The profits from any seabed mining would not even stay in Aotearoa: the metals would be shipped to Asia from the ship, and the cash would go to Manuka Resources in Australia (and the pockets of the directors).  The only real money coming into New Zealand would be the 2% royalties TTR would pay on the ironsands.


It's hard to imagine the EPA being able to do anything except refuse this application, given the lack of information about the "material harm."


We can only do our best to persuade them to do that.


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