Chatham Rock Phosphate launched its application to the Environmental Protection Authority for a marine consent to extract rock phosphate nodules from the seabed on the Chatham Rise, 450 km from New Zealand.
CRP, a New Zealand NZAX listed company, has spent four years and nearly $30 million to research its proposals to mine 1.5 million tonnes for use on New Zealand farms and export markets.
Counsel James Winchester, in his opening submissions, said the research has found effects are confined to a small area. He said the key conclusions from an enormous body of evidence were:
– The area is not significant for fishing or spawning,
– There is expert consensus the effects on fish and fishing are low,
– Modelling of sediment plume shows the effects will be confined and the main impact on benthic (seabed) organisms will be within the mining blocks. There will not be material adverse effects on fish, eggs or larvae over a wider area, with suspended solids quickly returning to normal between mining cycles,
– Risks to marine mammals and seabirds from a single vessel and the mining operation are low and can be appropriately managed,
– There will be significant and irreversible effects on the benthic environment where mining occurs, but these are unlikely to have flow-on consequences for the food web of the Chatham Rise. While the impact included permanent effects on stony corals, these are present throughout the Exclusive Economic Zone and CRP is proposing significant mitigation.
CRP’s proposed mitigation includes mining exclusion areas covering one fifth of the marine consent area to include sensitive and important seabed features and benthic communities, and trials to create areas of hard substrate to enable recolonisation of stony corals and other species.
“It is submitted that the greatest impacts and risks to the fishing industry and the fish that they rely on arise from their own unregulated bottom trawling, rather than a very small amount of seabed disturbance in an areas that is not important for fishing or spawning.”
Mr. Winchester began his submissions saying phosphate, a natural mineral, is as essential to life as water, oxygen and carbon. It cannot be manufactured, there is no synthetic substitute and New Zealand has no on-land sources, so all phosphate is imported, much from politically unstable parts of North Africa.
“The availability of a high quality, low cadmium local source of rock phosphate on the Chatham Rise makes this a strategic resource of national significance.”
He said the proposed dredging process is one of the most environmentally benign forms of mining practised anywhere in the world. No overburden removal is required and no chemicals are introduced to the environment. Damage is minimal and restricted almost entirely to the mined area.
In contrast the environmental costs and potential damage of using an alternative supply of phosphate involves removing vast quantities of overburden, containing much higher levels of cadmium and – shipped from the other side of the world – leaving a large carbon footprint.
Mr. Winchester said CRP is proposing a suite of conditions to deal with risks and effects including an adaptive management approach.