Green MP Teanau Tuiono: Mexican gulf ablaze shows need for Global Oceans Treaty

  • Opinion
  • 06/07/2021
Green MP Teanau Tuiono: Mexican gulf ablaze shows need for Global Oceans Treaty
Photo credit: Facebook / Teanau Tuiono / Screenshot / CNN

OPINION: Oceans are the lifeblood of our planet and home to countless species. Here in the Pacific, they are the foundation of cultural and historical identities linking communities across borders.

The ocean provides us with nourishing food to feed our families, supporting the livelihood of millions, and vitally absorbs carbon emissions. 

Yet this past week, over in the Atlantic in the Gulf of Mexico, we saw the ocean ablaze.

It seemed like something that could only appear in a movie, a raging underwater 'Eye of Sauron' bubbling up bright orange flames like molten lava just a short distance from a Pemex oil platform used for offshore drilling.

The scene was made even more surreal by the presence of firefighting boats made miniscule by the inferno.

This is yet another example of why political leaders should not trust extractive industries to do the right thing by the environment. With corporations - profit will always trump the planet.

Throughout the pacific, customary association with the sea forms the basis of present-day social structures, tenure systems and traditional systems of stewardship governing its use. 

Despite this significance, here in the Pacific, deep sea mining is the latest of these extractive industries that seek to make profit out of the planet. 

Amongst the riches of the seabed, deeply embedded into its ecosystems, are minerals such as copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese. This potential industrial value means that prospectors are keen to extract them, hence the emergence of a deep-sea mining industry.

There are those, of course, who are pushing back against the extractive Eye of Sauron such as the Deep Sea Coalition, Greenpeace and Pacific Groups who are working hard to protect the oceans and the seabed. They have supported a Pacific Led push to draw a Blue Line against the emerging Deep Sea Mining industry.

However, money is hard to say no to, and last week, the Nauru Government used the absence of an international regulatory framework to trigger a rule to allow mining in two years at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) the UN-mandated Authority, who are tasked with regulating the seabed. This comes before environmental regulations are in place at the ISA.

Ocean scientists have warned that mining activity should not proceed until more research is conducted into the little known environment of the deep sea. The areas of the deep sea where these contracts have been issued support some of the most biodiverse and scientifically important ecosystems on Earth. 

Scientists have warned that deep-sea mining would cause permanent loss of biodiversity in the deep sea, but the scale of the loss is currently unknown. Most of the species and ecosystems in the areas where mining would occur have not been well studied nor have the potential consequences of mining to these and wider ocean systems. 

We need to do our bit - and this looks like demanding from political leaders across the world to protect these oceans, rather than caving in to corporate interests. 

It looks like us, as a local and international community, demanding we sign up to a UN ratified Global Oceans Treaty that will protect our world's oceans from harmful human activity. 

Last week I put a question in the House to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on what New Zealand can do to support the coalition of organisations calling for our oceans to be protected. 

We cannot protect the ocean if politicians keep favouring extractive industries. They have done so much damage to our planet already and adding more pressure to the ocean will only make things worse. 

That is why the Greens are calling for an immediate moratorium to protect the Pacific from environmental destruction. It is time for a Global Oceans Treaty. And now. 

Teanau Tuiono is a Green MP