By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu
Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama has again called for a 10-year moratorium on sea-bed mining, at a time that many Pacific island nations are preparing for new frontiers of resource exploitation in the marine environment.
Speaking in Tuvalu this week before the 50th Pacific Islands Forum, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on fellow Forum island states to “support a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining from 2020 to 2030, which would allow for a decade of proper scientific research of our economic zones and territorial waters.”
There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and US corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.
Fiji’s call for a moratorium comes as community groups across the region are campaigning against potential environmental hazards of deep-sea mining, especially to ecologically sensitive hydrothermal vents. A report from the Guam-based Blue Ocean Law argues: “There is a general failure to incorporate sufficient environmental protections, as well as the norm of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples, who are most likely to be impacted by DSM. In the 21st century, and under well-established norms of international law, these omissions represent serious violations of international legal obligations.”
Bainimarama’s call comes the same week as major restructuring of the Nautilus Minerals corporation, which has been planning to commence mining off the coast of Papua New Guinea, under a world-first licence issued by the PNG government.
Fiji and oceans policy
In recent years, Fiji has taken a leading role in ocean policy at the United Nations, working with other Forum island countries through the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) group.
In June 2017, Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Conference on the Oceans and Seas in New York. This conference issued a call for action, highlighting action on ocean acidification, plastics, and overfishing. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed former Fiji UN Ambassador Peter Thomson as the UN Special Envoy on the Ocean.
This global campaigning is also translating into domestic legislation. Speaking in Tuvalu this week, Prime Minister Bainimarama said: “In addition to playing a leadership role in the global Ocean Pathway, we are also developing a National Oceans Policy, under which Fiji plans to move to a 100 per cent sustainable managed Exclusive Economic Zone, with 30 per cent of this being earmarked as a marine protected area by no later than 2030.”
Under the Forum’s “Blue Pacific” agenda, island nations are seeking to draw the links between oceans and climate policy. Bainimarama noted that Fiji was working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership to develop “a blended and innovative finance structure to support the decarbonisation of domestic marine transportation fleets and facilities in Fiji and across the region. This means replacing inter-island ships with more efficient hybrid ships, thereby reducing fuel costs and emissions.”
Pacific DSM initiatives
Under the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), many Forum island countries with large EEZs have been in discussions with transnational corporations to partner in deep sea exploration for maritime resources. Under UNCLOS and the authority of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), developing countries can also partner with overseas corporations to licence exploration in “The Area”, international waters that include vast arrays of minerals in Pacific Ocean areas such as the Clarion-Clipperton zone.
Nauru has long been a champion of DSM – at last year’s Forum leaders’ meeting, Nauru President Baron Waqa hosted a side even with ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge and Samantha Smith, the former Head of Environment and Social Responsibility with the deep-sea mining corporation DeepGreen.
This new frontier has drawn in regional organisations, to address legal, technical and regulatory issues around DSM. Boundary limitation is a vital concern as Pacific nations seek to increase potential revenues from fisheries and seabed mining in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). From 2010-16, the European Union funded the Pacific Community (SPC) to develop model DSM legislation for Forum member states, with many civil society groups concerned this work was promoting rather than regulating DSM.
The SPC Maritime Boundaries Division has also been engaged in technical work to clarify borders between independent island states as well as with colonial powers like France and the United States (for example, Vanuatu and France have been involved in a decades-long dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands).
There are tensions between the administering powers and territorial governments over the control of seabed minerals in the remaining colonies in the region. With an EEZ of nearly 5 million square kilometres, ocean-floor resources could be vitally important for the newest Forum member, French Polynesia. However, as the French government moved to amend French Polynesia’s autonomy statue earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that rare earths can be classified as “strategic metals”, which come under the control of the French State rather than the Government of French Polynesia.
Independence leaders have long argued against the French State’s control of strategic metals, with former Senator for French Polynesia Richard Ariihau Tuheiava telling the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 2017: “We have continually emphasised the critical nature of the resource question as a core issue for our future development. Whether or not these resources are considered in Paris to be ‘strategic’ is irrelevant to the applicability of international legal decisions which place the ownership of natural resources with the people of the non-self-governing territories.”
Collapse of PNG initiative
Early initiatives to begin sea-bed mining in the Pacific have not come to fruition. This week’s set-back to a major project in Papua New Guinea provides a salutary warning about the complexity and potential costs of DSM.
Under a licence issued by the PNG government, Nautilus Minerals has long planned to mine seabed minerals beneath PNG’s Bismarck Sea. However, with widespread community resistance, falling share prices and the loss of a specialised support vessel, Nautilus constantly pushed out the date for commencement of mining.
In February this year, Nautilus filed for court protection from its creditors under the Canadian Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), and the Canadian-based company was later delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange. This week, major shareholders MB Holding and Metalloinvest have moved to take control of company assets at the expense of major creditors and smaller shareholders (The PNG Government holds 15 per cent equity in Nautilus’ PNG subsidiary and the Solwara 1 project through the company Eda Kopa).
The looming collapse of the Solwara seabed mining initiative has been welcomed by civil society groups in Papua New Guinea, which have been campaigning against potential adverse impacts on ocean ecology.
Jonathan Mesulam of PNG’s Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated: “We rejoiced when the company filed for protection from creditors in Canada. Our opposition and our court action have helped push it to that point. Communities across Papua New Guinea want to see the nightmare of deep-sea mining removed from PNG waters. We will re-double our efforts to ensure that the new Nautilus will never operate at Solwara 1.”
Fiji’s call for a moratorium on DSM will be debated in the corridors at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, but there’s a way to go before all Forum member countries are willing to delay action on the supposed ocean El Dorado.
Harnessing traditional knowledge of the oceans in a way that isn’t exploitative or tokenistic is emerging as a strong theme at a regional ocean meeting currently underway in Noumea.
Scientists, policy makers and others with an interest in oceans management are meeting at the Pacific Community to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.
The Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, Frances Koya, said the very premise of the UN decade and all Sustainable Development Goal frameworks need to be questioned first.
“When we unpackage the conversation about the Blue Pacific identity, the blue economy and the blue continent, it is very much an economic agenda,” she said.
“We will need to invest in research that examines indigenous understandings of sustainability, sustainable livelihoods, custodianship, stewardship and of course, resilience. Not just ecological resilience but a holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of what resilience means to us.”
Koya says we need to be vigilant about what another speaker described as ‘parachute researchers’.
“How can we ensure that we do not perpetuate extractive research and development practice, of taking from indigenous communities and knowledge systems to strengthen western models of good practice, that is culture and indigenous knowledge and participation solely for an outside agenda? We will need to be mindful for the need for very difficult conversations about meaningful participation, intellectual property rights and copyright in the context of collective cultural knowledge, shared and mutual gains and benefits, protective safeguarding mechanisms and legislature.”
Fiji’s Patrina Dumaru, who is a geography lecturer at USP reinforced this message, saying in her own research she very quickly learnt ,“you can’t really create behavioural change without appealing to the belief systems and the customary practices and values of the communities which you work with.
“I have worked with some great scientists who have appreciated this, but who also had challenges in interacting in that kind of environment.”
She appealed to scientists to think about how they can make their work relevant at the community level.
“ It is great to be innovative in your labs in the universities that you work in, but our relevance will be what kind of change is going to happen on the ground.”
A Pacific Youth Council representative at the meeting, Tyler Rae Chung, said learning traditional navigation techniques and ways of being with the ocean, “brought me back to my grassroots to understand that it is not just about extracting information from the ocean, but it’s also about understanding that there was indigenous knowledge before us.”
She appealed to participants to think about how they can work with young people during the ocean decade through a mentoring-monitoring program.
“It would be great to see what we can offer the next generation of leaders in terms of education assistance and building their capacity from grassroots levels to indigenous knowledge because it all comes back to the people as well as scientific knowledge.”
The Noumea meeting is the first of a series of regional meetings around the world to plan a scientific research agenda for the Ocean Decade. It continues today.
You are able to enjoy independent news coverage from the Ocean Decade conference through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac).
“We are failing, but we have not yet failed. There is still time in the next ten years to turn things around. It’s our last chance. And our survival as a species depends on the health of the oceans.”
This is the rallying cry of the Pacific Community’s Oceans Manager, Jens Kruger on the eve of a meeting of scientists, government representatives, policy makers, civil society organisations, community representatives and academics to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Despite a long list of threats to the ocean—including sea level rise, habitat destruction, coral bleaching, acidification, overfishing, deoxygenation and deep-sea mining, many of which are detailed in the inaugural Global Ocean Science Report—Kruger is optimistic there is still time to turn things around.
“In the Pacific we live with the ocean and by the ocean, and we derive our life from the ocean, so it’s a subject that is very important to us and we need to bring everyone else in the world along on that journey to improve the health of the ocean.
“I’m optimistic that we can look towards science to provide some of those solutions that we need to tackle and be innovative. We realise that business as usual is not going to be good enough so the decade really tries to be transformative.”
The diversity of participants at the meeting reflects an approach that defines science in the broadest sense.
“We know that we can’t just have pure science or physical science in the decade. For example, for us in the Pacific, culture and arts is very important and policy is not just informed by science but also by social science,” Kruger says.
“We recognise that traditional knowledge sits alongside science and can provide really good innovative approaches to tackling some of the issues.”
The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will begin in 2021 and is intended to ensure ocean science can support countries to meet their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, those relating to conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. The Noumea meeting is the first of 8-10 similar gatherings that will be held around the world to create action plans as part of these coordinated global efforts.
Samantha Magick’s story has been developed as part of the Pacific Community Workshop on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. This was made possible through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac). COSPPac works to help translate ocean science that is critical and relevant to the Pacific region to better inform evidence based decision making for our climate and oceans
from the Acting Director General of SPREP, Mr Stuart Chape
World Oceans Day has been celebrated each year since 1992. We have witnessed increasing world attention on our oceans, particularly in the face of extreme climate impacts, alarming pollution loads and competition for ocean resources.
World Oceans Day 2018 in the Pacific has particular significance for us. The Pacific is celebrating the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2018 and Pacific Year of Coral Reefs (PYOCR) 2018-2019 and our 25th Year Anniversary. Coral reefs are a critical part of the ocean world in which we live. They support a major part of our daily subsistence needs and economies; they provide a living wall of protection from ocean waves; and much of our cultural identity is linked with our reefs and ocean. SPREP and our partners have several activities underway in 2018 and 2019 to campaign for coral reefs and assist our member countries in strengthening coral reef management capacity.
On World Oceans Day we recognise the immense beauty and values of the Ocean, but also remind ourselves of the immense work needed to address the increasing problems of climate change, ocean warming, ocean acidification, over-extraction of resources and the impacts these all have on coral reefs, fisheries, biodiversity and a host of other biological and ecological processes in our Ocean.
The degradation and loss of coral reefs means reduced protection of our coastal areas, declining fish for food security and lowered resilience of our island communities and economies. We are all contributors to these impacts, and each of us are affected in some way, so we should all be involved in designing and implementing joint solutions towards regaining a healthy Pacific Ocean. What we do on land directly affects the waters and life in our coastal and ocean environments. SPREP and our partner organisations in the Pacific are working towards improving multi-sectoral governance and integrated management of our islands and ocean, where holistic thinking and solutions are needed to re-build ocean health.
2018 is also a year when the world has focussed on marine debris and marine plastics, with several countries recognising the hidden impacts of micro-plastics on the ocean. Plastics, heavy metals and other pollutants are consumed by marine organisms, with numerous lethal and other impacts. These impacts eventually reach humans as well through the fish we consume. Other species of conservation importance like sea turtles and whales are caught in discarded or abandoned fishing gear, and usually suffer slow, cruel deaths.
As the Pacific region's inter-governmental organisation for the environment, SPREP with its partners assists its member countries and territories to better manage and conserve their ocean resources through programmes and projects on best practice island and coastal zone management, marine spatial planning, marine protected area management, coral reef management and monitoring, invasive marine species management, conservation of threatened and migratory marine species such as sea turtles and whales, waste management and pollution control. Our role extends to assisting countries in building their resilience to impacts of climate change, including ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea level rise and more.
I encourage all of you to celebrate the magnificence and importance of oceans today, but to use this moment to inspire discussion on how we can all better use the oceans, helping each other in protecting the health of our oceans. We can each do more, such as being careful not to over use our ocean resources and to not abuse our ocean habitats with thoughtless dumping of our wastes and pollutants. These and much more, are some of the things we must do not only on World Oceans Day, but from this day forward.
I want to acknowledge all those people who are working to help re-build the health of our oceans, and wish everyone a memorable World Oceans Day for 2018.