Surely we’ve seen the headlines…
Treasure (well Rock Phosphate) Struck on the Chatham Rise!!
I recall a Fairfax article last year (03 April 2012) by James Weir that was this celebratory (High-seas treasure hunt for phosphate):
“The underwater treasure ship Dorado Discovery is set to sail from Wellington for the Chatham Rise tomorrow.While its northern-hemisphere sister ships look for sunken treasure in shipwrecks from long ago, Dorado Discovery’s target is nuggets not of gold but of fertiliser – rock phosphate laid down millions of years ago.
NZAX-listed Chatham Rock Phosphate is hoping to mine the surface 400 metres underwater for phosphate which could provide fertiliser for New Zealand for 25 years or longer. At present it is imported from North Africa.
The ship has just returned from a fortnight gathering environmental data from the Chatham Rise and is loading new equipment for the next phase of the voyage. The past two weeks’ cruise has been “counting critters” in the operation’s scientific leg; the next phase is to work out how to best mine the phosphate.
The small phosphate rocks sit in an olive green sediment and mining them will be a challenge – about 200m deeper than any underwater mining in the world.”
The story concentrates mostly on the machinery of extraction, but briefly turned its mind to the effects of extraction. Quoting GNS principal scientist and geophysicist Ray Wood, who is the Chatham Rock Phosphate representative on the cruise:
“[We] collected 150 hours of video from about 2m off the bottom. In the environmental leg, scientists collected 17,000 photos and logged 60,000 observations, which will take months to analyse. There is a lot of the surface that is just green mud, but some areas it has coral,with some starfish and fish, while other areas are sparse. It was an amazing voyage – we are the first people to ever look at this part of the world.”
This is great news right?
According to Chatham Rise Phosphate (CRP):
“[the] extraction of the rock phosphate [will] provide a locally produced alternative to the 1 million tonnes of this material annually used in New Zealand and primarily imported from Morocco, thereby reducing our carbon footprint as well as high transport and foreign exchange costs.
Rock phosphate is an essential ingredient of manufactured fertiliser and can be applied directly to pasture with less environmental damage than super-phosphate from run-off. Extensive exploration in the 1970s and 1980s identified a potential 100-year supply for the New Zealand market. Recent substantial increases in the market value of rock phosphate and advances in offshore extraction technology mean it is now feasible to harvest this resource. The deposits are comprised of nodules lying on the seabed at relatively shallow depths and the relevant technology for such extraction is used routinely.”
CRP lists these wider benefits:
- Reduced exposure to currency risk
- Reduced commodity risk
- Known fixed costs
- Reduced import burden on NZ economy
- Reduced carbon footprint
- NZ owned and controlled
- Possible export earnings
In a Powerpoint presentation (click the picture below to access presentaion) CRP sums up with these for asertions:
- 100% owned long life deposit
- Financial, economic, & environmental beneﬁts to CRP & NZ
- Key international contractor engaged
- Development on track
But the silver lining has a cloud right?
There are clear benefits for New Zealand (especially for the Chatham Islands’ communities who could definitely use the windfall of the phosphate mining operations). But what are the challenges?
Well here are two that I can show through maps:
Location of the location of rock phosphate and the proposed Mining Area can be seen in the maps below.
But what about the location of the entire Rock Phosphate area?
In my post (Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?) I wrote about New Zealand’s Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) and Seamount Closures that between them protect the benthic biodiversity of over 30% on New Zealand’s Deep Seabed.
Together Seamount Closures and BPAs which close large representative areas of the seabed to bottom trawl fishing methods, including dredging, in perpetuity (an in the case of seamount closures prohibit all trawling or seabed activity), house 88% of all known active hydrothermal vents, 35 underwater topographical features (UTFs) 52% of all known seamounts and protect the benthic biodiversity of about 1.3 million km2 of seabed—over a third of New Zealand’s EEZ and more than four times the area of New Zealand itself (see Helson et al. (2010) Private rights, public beneﬁts: Industry-driven seabed protection).
This benthic protection initiative which forms one of the largest networks of protected marine habitats in the world for the express purpose of protecting the biodiversity of benthic communities at the broad ecosystems, is unequalled anywhere else in the world.
In the same post I provided a map of New Zealand’s BPAs and Seamount Closures:
You’ll notice in map above there is a BPA (the Mid-Chatham BPA) in the Middle of the Chatham Rise. If you look at the CRP area maps above you’ll notice that the proposed mining area is located within this BPA.
So CRP are proposing to mine in a protected area that is set aside to protect representative benthic biodiversity. This overlap is the subject of a soon to be published article in Marine Policy. This article by Alison Rieser et al. features the following map accompanied by some commentary that is somewhat critical of protection benefit BPAs given the issue of mining licences.
The other challenge is the overlap with the Chatham Rise fishing grounds. Which are the most productive fishing grounds in New Zealand, providing New Zealand millions of export dollars. This is concern from various sectors with the Seafood industry that their is a risk that the deep sea mining of rock phosphate will have adverse effects on fisheries, in both the short term and the long term.
According to Ministry for the Environment analysis of TCEPR data:
“Figure 2 shows the geographic distribution of commercial trawling effort by Trawl Catch Effort Processing Return (TCEPR) vessels in New Zealand waters from 1990 to 2008, [and] shows that trawl effort is highest in the eastern (on the Chatham Rise) and southern (on the north west edge of the Campbell Plateau) areas of the EEZ and is also high off the west coast of the South Island at the edge of the Challenger Plateau. Other trawling hotspots include areas off the Wairarapa coast and east of the Coromandel Peninsula. These are areas where the main target species of hoki, squid, orange roughy, southern blue whiting, barracouta, scampi and hake can be found.”
CRP assure us that they are consulting with the seafood industry and with other deepsea stakeholders including Maori… It would seem that they will need to… Notwithstanding the potential benefits of RCP to New Zealand, the challenges ahead of them are significant.
- Kermadecs do not need marine reserve status (stuff.co.nz)
- ‘Too late’ for Govt to vote on saving seabed (nzherald.co.nz)
- New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state! (greenfishbluefish.wordpress.com)
- Scientists find mysterious giant pockmarks on Chatham Rise (sott.net)
- Trophic Interactions and Distribution of Some Squaliforme Sharks, Including New Diet Descriptions for Deania calcea and Squalus acanthias (plosone.org)
- Massive seafloor craters found in waters off New Zealand (theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com)
- Massive seafloor craters found in waters off New Zealand (sott.net)
- Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): A re-emerging issue (greenfishbluefish.wordpress.com)