23 Feb 2021

Cook Islanders told seabed mining could be years away

1:57 pm on 23 February 2021

Cook Islanders are being told that any decision to mine billions of tonnes of rare earth minerals is still years away.

The sea floor surrounding the northern Cooks is seen as a potential resource to help supply the electric battery industry.

Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown led the mission to the Pa Enua outer islands along with Seabed Mineral Authority (SBM) and Marae Moana representation.

The delegation aimed to persuade people living on Palmerston, Nassau and Pukapuka atolls of the value of the polymetallic nodules on their seabed floors.

Some estimates put volumes at 12 billion tonnes.

Brown told locals that licensed exploration under way right now was just about data collection.

He said a decision on commercial harvesting was some years away.

Despite ocean scientists saying accurate data on the impact of mining is not yet available, SBM Commissioner Alex Herman told students on Palmerston "that the types of impacts were fairly well known" and that prospectors would need to prove their ability to prevent any harmful impacts.

Praising student interest in the seabed, she referred to it as a "national resource" which is in contrast to the Marae Moana Act 2017 which aims to protect and conserve the "ecological, biodiversity and heritage values of the Cook Islands marine environment."

Minerals on the sea bed

Minerals on the sea bed Photo: Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority