Suva – While deep sea mining is yet to commence in the region, Pacific Island countries are proactively developing legal instruments to ensure appropriate management of their deep sea mineral resources, with particular attention to the protection of the marine environment.
Tuvalu has become the fourth Pacific country to enact specific legislation for deep sea mineral activities, alongside the Cook Islands, Fiji and Tonga.
With technical assistance from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Tuvalu has set new standards, with its Seabed Minerals Act 2014 which requires coastal communities to not only be consulted prior to the approval of mining projects within Tuvalu’s waters, but also for any mining project Tuvalu sponsors in international waters.
Tuvalu’s Attorney General, Ese Apinelu, said that Parliament is pleased to have contributed to this development which will strongly enhance the sustainable management of Tuvalu’s deep sea resources.
“I’m hopeful that we’re witnessing the beginning of a trend that will accelerate new policies and initiatives. I’m thankful for assistance provided by the Deep Sea Minerals Project which has now equipped Tuvalu with a set of tools that will allow us to maximise the benefits of deep sea minerals for our people,” Attorney General Apinelu said.
A partnership between SPC and the European Union, the pioneering Deep Sea Minerals Project is assisting Pacific Island states by providing technical advice and assistance to enable them to make informed decisions about deep seabed mining.
Deep sea minerals, such as sea floor massive sulphides, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts and manganese nodules located in international waters can only be accessed via sponsorship of a State.
Kiribati, through its State-owned company, Marawa Research Exploration Limited, last month signed a contract with the International Seabed Authority and, by doing so, joined Nauru and Tonga; countries that have also signed contracts for exploration in international waters.
This latest contract is for an exploration license for polymetallic nodules in the clarion clipperton fracture zone in the east Pacific.
Kiribati’s Mineral Development Officer, Tebete England, thanked SPC and the EU for their assistance.
“This is a great milestone we’ve achieved. In addition, Kiribati is undertaking public consultation on a draft Deep Sea Mining Policy and is drafting specific deep sea minerals legislation with the assistance of the Deep Sea Minerals Project,” Ms England said.
The Head of the EU Delegation for the Pacific, Ambassador Andrew Jacobs, commended the Governments of Tuvalu and Kiribati for their recent achievements in the deep sea mining industry.
“The formulation of new legislation for Tuvalu and the issuance of an exploration license for Kiribati augurs well for the industry in the region.
“These achievements once again reflect the leading role the EU-SPC Deep Sea Minerals Project has in the sustainable management of seabed minerals on the Pacific's ocean floor and we’re proud of the project in this regard," Ambassador Jacobs said.
Deep sea mining has the potential to provide developing island States with much needed revenue to address development issues but this must be balanced against social and environmental considerations, SPC’s Geoscience Division Director, Professor Mike Petterson said.
“SPC will continue to work with the countries to develop the legal instruments required and assist with capacity building and awareness raising programs in this fascinating, emerging area,” Professor Petterson said.
Progress to improve the to improve the governance and management of their deep-sea minerals resources in accordance with international law, with particular attention to the protection of the marine environment and securing equitable financial arrangements for Pacific Island countries and their people of these 15 Pacific Island nations is among the on-ground benefits to Pacific communities to be highlighted during the EU Year for Development 2015.