SPC: ISA Cites Good Progress at Seabed Mineral Workshop

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Nadi, Fiji – Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority, Mr Nii Allotey Odunton, said that the ISA had been “honoured and delighted,” to hold an International Workshop, in collaboration with the SPC/SOPAC Division of the Pacific Community and the Government of Fiji, on issues relating to the environmental impact assessment of deep seabed mining.

Mr Odunton’s comments, part of his address to the United Nations General Assembly, December 2011, referred to good progress made at the International Workshop in identifying the issues that will need to be addressed in future environmental impact assessments, “including the establishing of a framework so that all stakeholders are aware of what is expected of them.”

[ISA SecretaryGeneral Nii Allotey Odunton at the December workshop in Nadi]

During the workshop in Fiji, an integral part of the four-year, EU-funded Deep Seabed Minerals Project, Mr Odunton said that more information about the different species living on the deep seabed is needed.  

“My concern is to prevent species extinction. We want to emphasise the precautionary approach, the work that still needs to be done in collecting baseline data.

“It is the mandate of the ISA to protect the marine environment. This means managing deep seabed mineral exploration, and any future mining enterprises, in such a way that the marine environment is sustained as the common heritage of all mankind.”

Of particular interest for Pacific Island nations are the two licence applications for deep seabed mineral exploration that the ISA has approved in the areas of seabed reserved for developing states.

The successful applications made by Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI) and Tonga Offshore Mining Ltd (TOML), were sponsored by Nauru and Tonga respectively, and that by forming partnerships with commercial interests that had access to the financial capital and technology necessary to conduct deep sea exploration, these two countries are following the “only realistic option for most developing States.”  

Mr Odunton said that the applications were “tremendously important” as they were the first by private-sector entities for exploration in the reserved area, and the first such applications to be made on the basis of sponsorship by developing states.  

The ‘reserved areas’ are within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a 4.5 million square-kilometre expanse of seafloor that lies beneath international waters and extends across the central Pacific Ocean, west of Hawaii’s 200 nautical mile Extended Economic Zone (EEZ) to east of Mexico’s EEZ.  The Clarion Clipperton Zone has been recognised as containing mineral-rich resources since the 1970’s.

“These mineral resources have been the subject of much discussion over the last forty years. For an industry that has yet to come into being, it has been one of the most scrutinised,” said Mr Odunton.