In the spring of 2017, Whanganui Surgeon Dr Athol Steward undertook a two-week, 400km, epic coastal hike from Raglan to Whanganui. It was not madness that drove him, but rather complete incredulity at the decision of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to allow TransTasman Resources (TTR) Ltd to go ahead with controversial seabed mining off the Taranaki coast.
Dr Steward turned his disbelief into action, and 'walked the walk for our ocean', raising over $10,000 to support Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) in their appeal against the decision of the EPA.
In August 2018, the High Court ruled to uphold KASM's appeal against the EPA's granting of consent to TTR. Consent was quashed on the grounds that the company's method of environmental management was illegal.
TTR was granted leave to appeal the decision in December 2018, and TTR executive chairman Alan Eggers said the basis of their appeal would be that they believe the EPA did follow a "legally correct approach in granting marine discharge consent".
Now, KASM, Greenpeace, and Maori Iwi will together cross appeal the High Court's decision in a bid to strengthen the case against seabed mining.
"Our cross-appeal is a logical step to take in this precedent-setting decision, as there are other seabed mining companies waiting in the wings. There are enough pressures on our oceans already without having to deal with the impacts of seabed mining," said Emily Hunter of Greenpeace.
When you stand on the coast and look out, you see this vast expanse of unspoiled nature, no ships on the horizon, nothing but a handful of recreational fishing boats. When you turn around and look inland, the evidence of human influence is so obvious in contrast. The sea is the last bastion of untouched New Zealand, and we have a responsibility to preserve it
Dr Steward has a long-standing and deep respect for the ocean, and his primary objective is to preserve "a rich marine environment, completely unspoiled", before the majority of New Zealanders even realise "what we are close to losing."
The doctor is back, 'making waves' for a cause close to his heart.
"When you stand on the coast and look out, you see this vast expanse of unspoiled nature, no ships on the horizon, nothing but a handful of recreational fishing boats. When you turn around and look inland, the evidence of human influence is so obvious in contrast. The sea is the last bastion of untouched New Zealand, and we have a responsibility to preserve it," says Dr Steward.
"Now we must raise funds and awareness for the continued fight. We're currently ahead, but we must make sure we stay that way."
Dr Steward will once again be accompanied by his son Lloyd, who walked alongside him for sections of his long west coast walk in 2017. Lloyd is currently Project Manager for the Pike River Mine re-entry project, and has been completing his training swims in Greymouth, in the icy waters of the Grey River.
The Whanganui River, Mount Maunganui's beach and Castlecliff Beach have all borne witness to Dr Steward's training swims, building strength and stamina for what will surely be a test of both.
The plan is to swim an 'X' to mark the spot of the proposed 66 square km site for the seabed mine. Dr Steward is pledging every dollar raised via his new Givealittle page to the legal battle, and this time his sights are set higher, aiming to raise $100,000 to divide between the appellants. Weather permitting; the first of the two swims (the two crosses of the X) will take place this weekend.
KASM are delighted to have Dr Steward once again representing them and their fight. "It's people like Athol whose absolute opposition to seabed mining, and determination to stop it, that makes up the very fabric of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and defines who we are," said a spokesperson on their website.
Chairperson Cindy Baxter elaborates: "We owe it to the thousands of people across the country who opposed this seabed mining application to make sure that any precedent set by these decisions are as strong as possible in terms of protecting the environment and natural justice."
The "X marks the spot" swim out in the Bight is just a warm-up. Dr Steward's original plan was to swim from the proposed mine site to the coast, but after studying the currents in the Bight, he realised this was not feasible. The new plan is to swim from Patea to Whanganui, toward the end of March/early April. Supporters will be able to walk along the coastline in solidarity.
To donate to Athol Steward's Givealittle fund visit:
More information regarding the EPA decision and the KASM appeal can be found on their respective websites: www.epa.govt.nz and www.kasm.org.nz