Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

Seabed mining protest at Parliament: 'It is inherently destructive'

Mining millions of tonnes of seabed material off the South Taranaki coast will cause environmental damage even if no mistakes happen, a large gathering at Parliament has heard.

A hikoi led by Taranaki iwi Ngati Ruanui has delivered a 6000-signature petition to Green Party MP Gareth Hughes and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell in front of the Beehive.

It calls for a moratorium on seabed mining. The group of about 80 held signs that read "No seabed mining in Patea" and "Sand mining - small gain, much pain".

Mining company Trans Tasman Resources is making its second attempt to get approval to mine ironsands on the South Taranaki Bight, around 30km off the west coast of the North Island.

It wants approval to extract 50 million tonnes of seabed material a year, of which 45 million tonnes would be returned after the iron ore was extracted.

Phil McCabe, of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, travelled to Wellington from Raglan and told the crowd that the proposed process was "inherently destructive".

"We are an island nation full of coastal people. We have a deep connection to the marine environment, a deep love for the marine environment.

"Seabed mining is a proposed activity that isn't happening anywhere in the world. It is inherently destructive. It's not an activity that if something goes wrong, you've got a mess. As soon as you start, you are breaking stuff."

Protesters against seabed mining at Parliament. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.
Protesters against seabed mining at Parliament. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.

Hikoi leader Debbie Ngawera-Packer said her iwi and residents of Patea relied on seafood to survive.

"We don't mobilise, we don't moan. We are not a complaining type of tribe...when we do have something to say, we want people to listen."

Details on the application had been redacted, and she and others had been asked to sign a confidential disclosure form to receive information.

"I don't know last time you tried to keep a secret in an iwi of 8000 descendants, but effectively that is not the way we roll."

The proposed seabed mining was an issue for all New Zealanders. If the Taranaki application was successful, it will also go down to the West Coast of the South Island, and they will open it up".

"This government has never monitored this type of activity before. They are asking us to take a leap in faith in their ability to apply conditions. That is just a no go zone for us. Full stop."

Trans Tasman's application was notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday, meaning the public has 20 days to make submissions.

No application to mine on New Zealand's seabed has succeeded. Trans Tasman's first bid failed in 2014 after the EPA raised concerns about the impact on the environment, iwi and fishing interests, and its economic benefits.

The EPA also said the company's proposal was "premature" and that it should have done further work on understanding the environment and engaging with local residents.
Trans Tasman now believes it has addressed those gaps.

Executive chairman Alan Eggers said the company had carried out additional research to refine the environmental aspects of its application, and had met with "a wide range of stakeholders".

It estimates that the mining project would boost export earnings by $300m a year and would support up to 1650 jobs - 300 in the immediate region.

A spokeswoman for the company said the proposed mining site was in a "turbulent, naturally tough and bruising environment", where unique or special marine life would not prosper.

The proposed mining site is located in an area of the seabed that is characterised by high-energy, high-variability ocean conditions. Put simply, the area is in a turbulent, naturally tough and bruising environment and is no place for a rich, unique or special marine life or ecology to linger or prosper in.

"From a marine navigation point of view there will be little impact on commercial fishing because the proposed operations only occupy a relatively small, constantly moving area and have an exclusion zone around it similar to the existing oil and natural gas marine installations in the area."

- NZ Herald

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