Seabed mining stirs discontent with Taranaki iwi

The groups handed the 6000-signature petition to Parliament on Monday (Isobel Ewing / Newshub.)
The groups handed the 6000-signature petition to Parliament on Monday (Isobel Ewing / Newshub.)

The company looking to mine millions of tonnes of iron ore from the seabed off South Taranaki is at loggerheads once again with the local community and iwi.

New Zealand-owned Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) has made a second application to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for a 20-year permit to extract 50 million tonnes of iron ore from the seabed off Patea annually.

Its application failed two years ago because of concerns regarding the company's lack of public consultation and the environmental effects of sucking up then discharging so much sand.

Today a group of iwi and Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) presented a petition to Green Party energy and resources spokesman Gareth Hughes with more than 6000 signatures calling for a moratorium on seabed mining.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Ngati Ruanui says her iwi are "protectors, not protestors".

"We've been able to endure some pretty tough historical situations and we were the first iwi in Taranaki to settle. We want to get on and look after ourselves but we have to make do now with what we've got.

"This for us is fighting for the last bit of natural resources that we have."

The company claims it will generate 300 jobs locally and 700 jobs regionally, but Ms Ngarewa-Packer says that doesn't mean local people.

"We have a largely unskilled workforce.

"Our experience with this sector is you need to get skills, it's very scientific, we just can't qualify for those types of positions."

Ms Ngarewa-Packer says the sand plume created by the mining operation and its impact on kaimoana remains a major concern.

"The plumage is so wide and so extensive there wouldn't be any way for us to ensure that the natural life forces and the natural species on the seabed survive."

Collecting kaimoana is also a critical part of being able to survive in a town that's suffered from freezing works closures and the dairy downturn, she says.

She says the fact that hundreds of pages of TTR's application are blacked out indicates a lack of transparency.

"We haven't seen anything or heard anything from them that would give us any more assurance than the last time they put an application in."

But TTR says it's spent $66 million on "further scientific studies to respond to each of the perceived gaps the EPA's Decision Making Committee".

In a statement, the company said there is considerable misinformation about the effects of the sediment plume.

"The suspended sediment that results from mining activity is not a new or unusual imposition on the ecology.

"It is similar to what already happens naturally and mining make up a very small fraction of the volume of sediment stirred up and moving around by natural processes in this tough environment."

It also said there'd been misinformation about the marine life living in the area where TTR wants to operate.

The application also includes plans for a fund of $50,000 per year to be administered by the South Taranaki District Council to help with community projects.

KASM's Phil McCabe says seabed mining is "inherently dangerous".

"It's not an activity where if something goes wrong there's a mess. As soon as you start, you're breaking stuff."