An experimental plan to strip mine phosphate in one of New Zealand’s protected areas of pristine seabed risks ruining New Zealand’s sustainable fisheries and our international reputation.
The deepwater seafood industry is challenging a proposal to mine phosphate beds within the Chatham Rise Benthic Protection Area.
Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd is expected to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment with the Environmental Protection Authority next week, with plans to start strip mining before the end of 2014.
Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd intends to use an untested method to mine 1.5 million tonnes of rock phosphate a year from the seabed off the Chatham Islands. The seabed ecosystem in the area is currently protected by law as a Benthic Protection Area where bottom trawling is prohibited.
“The proposed strip mining for phosphate puts short term gains ahead of the ability of New Zealand’s fisheries to thrive and to continue to provide sustainable economic benefits to the country,” said George Clement, CEO of the Deepwater Group.
The parts of the seabed in the Exclusive Economic Zone covered by the Benthic Protection Areas, a form of marine protected area, have been set aside since 2007 because of their ecological significance.
By working with Government to create Benthic Protection Areas, the seafood industry sought to ensure that large areas of the seabed are never impacted by bottom trawling, so that the seabed ecology and bottom dwelling species, such as sponges and corals, can remain undisturbed and be preserved.
Strip mining for phosphate, a low-value mineral, in this area would have a double-whammy impact.
The Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd proposal is to dredge millions of tonnes of the seabed up to the surface every year for up to 25 years, to extract rock phosphate, and to then dump the rest back into the sea. All of the animals caught up in this process will die.
“Not only would the protections put in place for these sensitive marine areas be destroyed, but the underwater pollution caused by removing up to 1.2 metres of sand and mud from the seabed over 820 square kilometres has the potential to damage hoki, ling, hake and orange roughy stocks in the area,” said Clement.
“This is the same as removing all of the top soil from an area the size of Tongariro National Park and to then simply dump the parts not needed back into the ocean to be carried wherever the currents and weather conditions dictate.
“This silt is likely to spread over wide areas, covering our important nursery and breeding areas, with implications throughout the food chain.”
The phosphate strip mining proposal will be the first application for a licence to mine the seabed to be considered by the Environmental Protection Authority under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, which has just come into force.
George Clement says the mining technology is experimental, the seabed environment on the central Chatham Rise is vital to New Zealand’s sustainable seafood production and reputation, and the new legislation is untested.
“That together represents a lot of unacceptable risk to New Zealand’s sustainable fisheries. We will be challenging the application in the EPA process.
“We are not against mining, but when regulations under the Fisheries Act require protection of the seabed, the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act should at least afford the same protection to the same areas.”
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