Forest & Bird welcomes Chatham Rise decision

Forest & Bird welcomes the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency today to refuse an application to mine phosphate from the seabed on the Chatham Rise which would have led to destructive mining in a fragile habitat.

Forest & Bird’s Group Manager Campaigns and Advocacy Kevin Hackwell said the EPA made the right decision to take a cautionary approach to Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd’s application. The company wanted to initially mine an 820 sq km area of the Chatham Rise, eventually expanding to 5,200 sq km.

“We are very pleased with the EPA’s decision. This was radical new technology, which had never been tried anywhere else in the world and the risks were too great,” Kevin Hackwell said.

The EPA concluded that mining would cause significant and permanent damage to the seabed environment including areas dominated by protected stony corals which were potentially unique to the Chatham Rise.

The Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act passed in 2012 requires that decision makers adopt the precautionary approach. The EPA accepted arguments by Forest & Bird and others that the significant effects combined with the inability to mitigate those effects required that consent be declined.

“They proposed mining a massive area, initially amounting to four times the size of the Abel Tasman National Park and it could have caused a huge amount of damage to a fragile habitat,” Kevin Hackwell said.

The EPA decision found that the destructive effects of the extraction process and impact of the sediment on adjacent areas and the wider marine ecosystem could not be mitigated by any measures adopted by the company.

“We applaud the EPA for its consistency in this decision, following its decision last year to decline the application of Trans Tasman Resources to mine ironsands off the South Taranaki Coast due to the uncertainties about the environmental impacts,” Kevin Hackwell said.

“This latest decision sends a clear message to the marine mining industry that they need to obtain better information about the effects of their activities, particularly where they involve brand new ideas that have never been tried anywhere before.”

Forest & Bird argued the proposal could threaten feeding grounds on the Chatham Rise for five threatened seabird species in the nationally critical category. These include the Chatham Island taiko, of which only about 20 breeding pairs remain.