Wellington — Mining phosphate from the seabed of the Chatham Rise would remove a protected coral species crucial to the local ecosystem, an Environmental Protection Agency hearing into a seabed mining proposal was told this morning.
Benthic expert Professor Les Watling, a marine biologist with extensive experience – to the point of having seven new species named in his honour – was giving evidence on behalf of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), Greenpeace and Kiwis Against Seabed ining (KASM) to the hearing into Chatham Rock Phosphate’s (CRP) application to mine a 5000 sq km area of the Chatham Rise for phosphate.
The company’s sediment modelling shows that the mining waste would consist of small particles that, if pumped back into the water, would spread over a wide area. This, Professor Watling said, would create a kind of “soup” where no coral could grow.
The coral, Goniocorella dumosa, was a protected species under the Wildlife Act, and “one of the most important structure-forming, and thus habitat-creating, species on the Chatham Rise,” he said. It was the dominant coral in the area and was the reason it is a “sensitive environment” under the EEZ Act.
The mining company suggested that artificial ‘substrate’ like concrete blocks could be placed, but Professor Watling calculated that it would take 164 million concrete blocks to cover only 20 per cent of the mined area, he said, making it prohibitively expensive, and nobody knew if the idea would work at all.
DSCC spokesperson Barry Weeber noted that Chatham Rock Phosphate had admitted on Friday that placing these blocks could cost $20 billion and render the entire project uneconomic.
He also pointed to the international protocols around the effect of another destructive practice – bottom trawling – on these sensitive ecosystems.
“International protocols aimed at avoiding all significant adverse impacts on vulnerable marine ecosystems. Yet this seabed mining proposal would see deliberate targeting of areas containing these vulnerable ecosystems,” he said.
Full evidence from the coalition of environmental groups can be found here.