Last Wednesday was a busy day for me with oral submissions to New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) on sand mining and to the Health Select Committee on water fluoridation. The EPA is considering a renewed application by mining company Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) to dig up 50 million tonnes of seabed yearly in a 66 sq. km section of the South Taranaki Bight – for 35 years. The EPA refused the company a consent in 2014. TTR has now re-applied.
I am speaking to oppose this consent because I believe that coastal residents who will be negatively impacted by this project should have the final say whether it goes ahead or not. The likely environmental impacts – based on numerous studies in other regions on the effect of dredging and deep sea mining will cause wide ranging damage to deep sea plants and animals (ranging from microscopic to large marine mammals).
Killing the microscopic animals in the food chain has been shown to significantly reduce fish stocks and bird an mammal populations. In prior studies, the recovery period after sand mining was as long as 3-10 years. And none of these prior projects were anywhere near as extensive as TTR is proposing.
Computer Modeling Isn’t Proof
We also don’t see how some computer modelling done tens of thousands of miles away in London that somehow “proves” TTR’s proposal will cause no environmental damage. Surely if TTR were serious about investigating potential environmental harm, they would making more of an effort to study the marine life that already lives in the area they propose to mine instead of sending sediment samples to London for computer modelling. How can they possible predict the likely response of deep sea organisms when they haven’t made an effort to identify and count what’s already there?
With some of our marine mammals – including the Maui dolphin, the blue whale and the blue penguin – already seriously threatened, this major disruption in their food supply has the potential to wipe them out altogether.
Potential Major Harm to Fishing and Tourism
Taranaki’s fishing industry is already in deep trouble with declining fish stocks and the major environmental impact of sand mining also pose a major threat to tourism, which is now Tarankai’s primary industry. People come to Taranaki for surfing and recreational fishing, which are also threatened by sand mining, and for the pristine environment of our coast and beaches.
The people of Taranaki are fed up with being a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry, which in my view explains why the vast majority of submissions oppose this proposal. We’re fed up with having our livelihoods, health and quality of life sacrificed to increase the profits of offshore corporations.
Getting Stuck with the Final Clean-Up Bill
There are also major concerns over who will fix the environmental damage when this project finishes – or fails. With the drop in the price of oil, we see numerous oil companies pulling out of Taranaki – leaving us to clean up the environmental risk. With the current glut in the global price of steel – due to major stockpiles in China – we see ourselves in a similar situation in 35 years time when the mining for iron sands either ends or fails.
Lack of Transparency
We also have a problem with TTR’s overall lack of transparency around this application. It appears the real value of this permit is the fact that it’s locked in for a guaranteed period of time – irrespective of future governments who impose stricter environmental regulation. It’s our firm belief that TTR has no intention of exercising the permit themselves. That their main agenda is to obtain the permit and then to sell it on to the highest bidder – not for the iron sands themselves which can’t be sold profitably in the current market – but for the rare earth minerals (which they mention in their application) which have the potential to be far more lucrative.
Like many other locals, I have major problems with any process that allows multinational corporations, to have precedence over democratic efforts of local people to protect themselves against projects such as this one that allow overseas companies to reap all the profit while forcing local residents to bear all the costs.