Seabed Mining: Government May Fast-track, Progress on International Moratorium and 'Deep Rising' film screening

(listen to the full interview with Phil above)

Back in 2012, when the threat of seabed mining cast a dark shadow over the picturesque shores of Raglan, Phil McCabe and his crew of coastal rebels kicked into high gear.

“As someone who enjoys the ocean and has a long standing connection with the ocean, I saw that seabed mining was just an outrageous proposal,” he said.

Thus began a wild five-year ride for Phil, steering the Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) ship through choppy waters in a quest to stave off the grasp of mining moguls.

Flash forward to today, and Phil finds himself surfing the waves of change as the Pacific lead for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, navigating the treacherous currents of governmental flip-flops and policy both in Aotearoa and abroad.

West Coast Seabed Mining Application

In 2017, Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to mine the west coast, but a legal battle ensued between KASM (alongside Greenpeace, Ngati Ruanui, the fishing industry and others) and TTR, resulting in KASM, and the rest of the opponents, successfully overturning TTR's seabed mining application. 

Just last year the Supreme Court deemed the EPA's consent approval unlawful, requiring TTR to face a reconsideration of their application in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. According to Phil, the initial consent was contingent upon TTR conducting two years of environmental base-line research following the mining permission grant.

In Phil’s view, TTR have been dragging out the reapplication process to keep the mining project alive but is confident the consent will be denied based on the amount of evidence that has been submitted by experts and groups such as KASM, Forest and Bird and Greenpeace.

“We all know that the proposed activity of strip mining a massive area of the ocean and pouring all your waste back into the environment to deal with is inappropriate. And the law basically backs that up.”

The hearings for the TTR case will be held in Hawera and begin this March.

New Government’s Policy Changes

Despite optimism regarding the TTR case, recent proposed policy shifts concerning mining by the new coalition government have raised alarms within the conservation community. Phil expressed particular concern about potential fast-tracking in vanadium mining, a component of iron sand, that could mean the fast-tracking of seabed mining.

“What that means exactly, we don't know. But we do know that the National Government is putting forward a proposed bill to fast track major projects of national and regional interest and TTR has been vocal about wanting inclusion in the plans,” says Phil.

Expecting the government's unveiling of fast-tracked projects in early March, Phil indicates that while these initiatives may cover a range of endeavours, including seabed mining, it would be ‘crazy’ for the government to include the TTR project, given its ongoing legal complications.

“If they did that, they would be basically overriding the courts.”

For the TTR case to be fast-tracked, the Government would have to amend the law to reduce environmental standards and disregard societal consent in order to expedite the process. Phil understands that the fast-tracking framework entails the project being reviewed by a select committee for approval, effectively excluding interest groups like KASM from participating in the process.

International Moratorium on Seabed Mining

At the global level, Phil is engaged in a campaign to get countries to institute a moratorium or pause on deep sea mining. The deep sea habitat is part of a complex ocean system and home to species of marine life that are still undiscovered.

France possesses the largest ocean territory, encompassing its Pacific regions such as French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and according to Phil is leading the charge for a complete prohibition on deep sea mining.

Currently, New Zealand's stance supports a ‘conditional moratorium’ on deep sea mining. However, there's concern that Winston Peters, as the Foreign Affairs Minister, might reverse this position. 

Phil argues that there's little justification for reversing New Zealand's stance, as there are no apparent advantages to endorsing mining in international waters, nor is there any domestic interest in pursuing such a policy.

As of 2023, commercial deep sea mining had yet to commence. However, the International Seabed Authority had granted 19 exploration licences for polymetallic nodules within the Clarion Clipperton Zone—an expansive region of the Pacific Ocean stretching from Hawaii to Mexico. These nodules, resembling lumps of coal on the ocean floor, contain valuable metals such as nickel, cobalt, manganese and copper.

A University of Hawaii study pinpointed the Clarion Clipperton Zone as the most biodiverse area among 300 sampled oceanic depths worldwide. The nodules targeted for mining serve as a vital habitat for a wide array of organisms.

Phil strongly opposes claims suggesting the absence of life in the deep sea and emphasises that strip mining the seafloor disrupts these unique habitats.

“A lot of us understand the connectivity of the environment and the natural world. You break one part, it's going to impact the rest. We're learning more. We don't know the full range of functions of the deep ocean but we know it's the largest carbon sink. So just plain stupid given the planetary crisis.”

Film Screening: Deep Rising


(Listen to our interview with Peggy Oki about the film screening of Deep Rising below)


Screening at the Old School Arts Centre on Thursday, February 29 at 7pm, Raglan will host a screening of "Deep Rising." Directed by Matthieu Rytz and narrated by Jason Momoa, the documentary explores polymetallic nodule mining, shedding light on the role of the International Seabed Authority and advocating for the protection of the ocean floor as a global heritage. The film also features extraordinary footage of deep-sea organisms, emphasising their vulnerability to environmental disruptions.

Phil says the film describes the issues ‘really well’ and encourages everyone to take a look. He will also be holding a Q&A session after the film for interested participants.

KASM will also have a stall at Māui Dolphin Day & Recycled Raft Race this Saturday so pop down to learn more about deep sea mining.