Endangered blue whales threatened by seabed mining

An important habitat for New Zealand’s only know population of critically endangered blue whale is now at risk from destructive seabed mining after an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) ruling today. 

Trans Tasman Resources Limited applied to undertake iron sand seabed mining between South Taranaki and Golden Bay. The application area covers 65 km² of seabed, more than three times the size of Kapiti Island.

The EPA has granted their marine consent application today in a split decision from the EPA’s decision making committee, where two of four committee members provided a dissenting viewpoint.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and Greenpeace provided an expert witness on blue whales to the EPA’s hearings. Forest & Bird provided an independent witness on the impacts of noise to marine mammals. 

“We know this area is home to critically endangered blue whales, possibly one of only five known in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica,” says Forest & Bird Chief Conservation Adviser Kevin Hackwell.

“It’s also habitat for at least a further 33 species of marine mammals, including Hector’s and Māui dolphins, and an important migratory corridor for humpback whales.”

“Now Trans-Tasman Resources can spend the next 35 years sucking up 8000 tonnes of seabed sediment per hour. This will kill everything on the sea floor, and severely disrupt the habitat of blue whales and other species.”

Seabed mining will cause catastrophic damage to the seafloor, and affect seabirds, fish, and marine mammals.

Forest & Bird is critical of Trans-Tasman Resources’ failure to undertake a proper assessment of the impact that noise from the mining operation will have on whales. In their dissenting view committee members Ms McGarry and Mr Te Kapa Coates say: “Noise impacts on marine mammals is a key concern for us. We consider the information available is extremely uncertain and inadequate.”

“Seabed mining generates constant noise that can be heard over vast areas of ocean. This noise can cause whales to leaving the area, or have impacts like stress, reduced reproductive success and survivability.  In extreme cases, whales that do not leave noise-affected areas are at risk of abnormal stranding,” says Mr Hackwell.  

“It is completely irresponsible to put New Zealand’s only resident population of critically endangered blue whales in the firing line for Trans Tasman Resources to suck-up the seabed and make a buck.”

The EPA acknowledges there are uncertain ecological effects from the mining, but have granted consent anyway. 

A total of 13,733 submissions were received on the application, the highest number of submissions the EPA has received on any application since it was established in 2011.

"The community and tangata whenua are against this destructive practice," says Mr Hackwell.

"Seabed mining will damage our marine environment, and impact New Zealand’s reputation."
 
Notes for journalists:
 

  • This is the second time Trans Tasman Resources have applied for a marine consent for seabed mining. Their earlier application was made in 2013 and was declined primarily due to a lack on information on the effects of the activity would have on the ecosystems of the South Taranaki Bight.
  • The EPA’s Board of Inquiry had only 9 months to decide on the application after determining the application was complete. This period includes time to receive submissions, hold a hearing, deliberate, and draft the decision. The EPA extended this period twice.
  • The process was delayed after submitters lodged an Environment Court challenge to the decision by Trans Tasman Resources and the EPA that certain information should not be made available to submitters. The Environment Court upheld the challenge.   
  • The Department of Conservation, responsible for the management of marine mammals in New Zealand, did not make a submission on the application. The EPA sought advice from DOC through the process, including about the effects on whales.  
  • This would be the first major seabed mining operation in New Zealand after Trans Tasman Resources’ earlier application was declined and Chatham Rise Phosphate’s application for seabed mining in the Chatham Rise for phosphate was declined in 2015. 

For photos and video to support the story:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/glcm5wzm0tnma59/AABpuK19GbBZoJYHaOKGaBgra?dl=0