Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) has been granted consent to mine 50 million tonnes of iron ore sand off the coast of south Taranaki each year, a decision strongly opposed by environmentalists and tangata whenua.
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- Seabed mining stirs discontent with Taranaki iwi
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approved the company's application to mine seabed material containing iron ore in a 66 square kilometre area in the South Taranaki Blight, giving it license to do so for the next 35 years.
It was a split decision between the four members of the decision-making committee. Chairman Alick Shaw and Dr Kevin Thompson voted to grant the consent, while deputy chair Sharon McGarry and Gerry Te Kapa Coates voted against it - citing concerns about the local environmental effects and the interests of tangata whenua.
The decision was decided on the vote of Mr Shaw as chair of the committee. There is a 15-day window for appeals to be lodged against the decision.
A similar application was rejected in 2014 due to uncertainty around the potential environmental effects.
TTR chairman Alan Eggers said the operation will bring new jobs to the region and provide substantial economic benefits to Taranaki and New Zealand.
"TRR delivered and presented a comprehensive evaluation of the potential environmental effects supported by highly qualified international and local experts in marine ecology," Mr Eggers said.
"It should be acknowledged that TTR has undertaken extensive marine environmental work in the STB and as a result of TTR's research the STB is now regarded as the most studied and documented area of ocean floor and marine environment around New Zealand."
'Completely irresponsible' - Forest & Bird
Forest & Bird chief conservation adviser Kevin Hackwell slammed the decision, saying mining will damage the seafloor and threaten seabirds, fish and marine mammals.
"We know this area is home to critically endangered blue whales, possibly one of only five known in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica," he said.
Mr Hackwell said the area is a habitat for at least 33 other marine mammals, including Hector's and Māui's dolphins, and is a corridor for humpback whales to pass through.
"It is completely irresponsible to put New Zealand's only resident population of critically endangered blue whales in the firing line for Trans-Tasman Resources to suck-up the seabed and make a buck."
Ngāti Ruanui - which holds mana whenua - opposed the consent application. Its concerns included inadequate consultation and the lack of consideration of their cultural impact assessment. The iwi said it was unable to access the full information about the proposal without a confidentiality agreement, and was not given enough time to consult with its people.
Green party mining spokesperson Gareth Hughes said the EPA has failed to listen to the concerns of iwi and environmental agencies and has "failed New Zealanders".
"The EPA received 13,417 submissions calling for the application to be declined, and only 147 submissions in support, so it's clear that the people haven't been listened to here, especially mana whenua."
He said the Green Party wants a moratorium on all seabed mining in New Zealand.
Environmental group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining said it is "stunned" by the decision and will be appealing it.
"We have to take the only responsible route here by appealing this decision, on behalf of the future of our coastal peoples and environment, the blue whales, Maui's dolphins and little penguins," said chairperson Phil McCabe.