Thumbs Up for President Obama who Announces Plan to Protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay From Future Oil and Gas Drilling!!!

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In a White house press release and video message posted online, President Obama announced his plan to designate Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing, exploration and drilling — an action that will safeguard waters that help provide 40 percent of USA’s wild-caught seafood, support a $2 billion annual fishing industry, and are vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.

In a Press release by the white house…

President Obama designated the pristine waters of Bristol Bay as off limits to consideration for oil and gas leasing.  This action safeguards one of the nation’s most productive fisheries and preserves an ecologically rich area of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska that is vital to the commercial fishing and tourism economy and to Alaska Native communities.”

Using his executive powers Obama proclamated (see Youtube clip):

Under Authority granted me in Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 USC 1341(a), this withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any oil or gas leasing for purposes of exploration, development or production.”

According to the Whitehouse Press release:

Bristol Bay is at the heart one of the world’s most valuable fisheries, helping to provide 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood and support a $2 billion annual fishing industry.  The beautiful and remote area is also an economic engine for tourism in Alaska, driving $100 million in recreational fishing and tourism activity every year. Bristol Bay hosts the largest runs of wild sockeye salmon in the world, and provides important habitat for many species, including the threatened Stellar’s eider, sea otters, seals, walruses, Beluga and Killer whales, and the endangered North Pacific Right Whale. 

Today’s decision to withdraw the area from all future oil and gas leasing extends indefinitely a temporary withdrawal that President Obama issued in 2010 and was set to expire in 2017.  This action builds on decades of local efforts to protect Bristol Bay from oil and gas development by Alaska Native tribes and organizations, as well as local seafood and tourism businesses that create jobs and strengthen Alaska and the nation’s economy. It also honors the legacy of Alaska residents like Harold ‘Harvey’ Samuelsen, a salmon fisherman who is legendary for his lifelong dedication to Bristol Bay and to creating economic opportunities for Alaska Native and rural communities.

The North Aleutian Basin Planning Area that includes Bristol Bay consists of approximately 32.5 million acres, a portion of which was leased in the mid-1980s but never developed due to litigation.  The previous Administration set in motion a new lease sale for 2011 that would have opened approximately 5.6 million acres – about one-fifth of the planning area – for drilling.

In 2010, President Obama temporarily withdrew the Bristol Bay area from oil and gas development, exercising his authority under section 12 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which gives the President authority to withdraw offshore areas from potential oil and gas leasing. President Eisenhower was the first to exercise the authority in 1960, withdrawing an area now included in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Since then, Presidents on both sides of the aisle have acted to withdraw areas of the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas leasing.

Under the Outer Continental Shelf Land Act of 1953, the Department of the Interior develops a new leasing program every five years for energy development in federal offshore waters.

The current Five Year Program for 2012–2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is currently developing the 2017-2022 program, which includes opportunities for public comment.

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama's Proclamation (Source: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/collections/protecting-bristol-bay)

Map Showing Area of Bristol bay, Alaska being protected by Obama’s Proclamation (Source: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/collections/protecting-bristol-bay)

Culmination of Years of Campaigning by eNGOs, Fishers and other organisation

This Action by the US President must have come as GIGANTIC relief for a multitude of campaigners that have been working hard for years, trying to ensure the protection of this pristine wilderness area.

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: http://pool32mag.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/save-bristol-bay-from-threatening_1016.html Photo: Erin McKittrick)

Bristol Bay Wilderness: (Source: http://pool32mag.blogspot.com.au/2010/05/save-bristol-bay-from-threatening_1016.html Photo: Erin McKittrick)

For more information about Bristol Bay
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Seabed Mining: What Will The Effect Of Phosphate Mining Be On Tuna Health?

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According to news item in Atuna, the Namibian fishing industry, especially the tuna and hake sector, is concerned about the impact of seismic surveys (for oil) and possible marine phosphate mining in Namibian waters.

According to Atuna:

Namibian Hake Association Chairman, Matti Amukwa, told Namibian Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein during a consultative meeting between the ministry and the fishing sector last Friday in Walvis Bay, that the tuna sector was facing “a challenging time” because of seismic testing. He warned:

“Seismic testing is quietly and very quickly killing this fishery, especially the pole and line, and surface long line, sectors. A solution should be found from relevant ministries and stakeholders to rescue this fishery otherwise it will be history.”

As for the effects of the proposed Sandpiper marine phosphate project off the coast near Walvis Bay, Amukwa said the tuna and hake industry remains concerned about the effects this project would have on the industry.

He maintained that “robust independent scientific research” is required on the implications of marine phosphate mining before any decision is taken on whether to go ahead with the project.

According to Amukwa Namibian fish and tuna products need international certification or eco-labeling for sustainable fishing practices to be competitive in international markets. This certification could be jeopardized in the event where fears are realized that the phosphate sediment being mined would either drive away important fish resources, or even poison them. “The livelihood of 9 000 workers in the wild seafood sector is at stake here”

It was recently reported that Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP’s), which is responsible for Sandpiper will soon launch a verification project worth N$14 million. This project will serve to verify findings of the environmental impact assessment of the marine component of Sandpiper.

Schlettwein disagreed with the fact that only one element, such a seismic surveys, was responsible for fish stocks moving away, saying a collection of factors including environmental elements will have such a large scale effect. He however agreed with Amukwa that more research was needed to ensure the safety of the phosphate mining on fisheries.

“Hopefully we’ll find a middle way, but if not, we will have to consider the hard facts and make a decision from there,” he said.

 

Marine Reserves: Extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserves for the purpose of fish stocks protection is misguided!

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Recently I posted a response to an article by Jay Harkness (New Zealand Marine Reserves Too Small) in the Dominion Post (26th March) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?.

This article by Harkness extolled the benefits of extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserve Network to incorporate 30% of all the waters under New Zealand jurisdiction… My post vehemently disagreed with Harkness’s approach, stating instead that over 30% of the marine area under New Zealand jurisdiction is already subject to regulatory protections (Benthic Protected Areas (BPAs) and Seamount closures).

Recently I was sent a Op-Ed that was written for the Dominion Post in response to the Harkness article. Unfortunately the Dominion Post published Pamela Mace’s Op-Ed  (New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state!instead, so I am going to post it below…

Targeted Marine Protection Better Than Naive Biology

Demanding expansion of Marine Reserves to protect fish stocks is a bit like setting fire to your house any time you are cold.  It’s not very targeted to the outcome of getting warm.

Jay Harkness (DominionPost 26th March) posits that only by extending Marine Reserves over a third of New Zealand waters can New Zealand fish stocks be preserved.

First of all, Jay Harkness provides no evidence at all for the claim that New Zealand’s marine fish stocks are in steep decline.  No numbers are given – no species are cited.

Some people may wish to believe there are fewer fish out there, but that doesn’t make it true.  The Quota Management System has set limits to fishing particular fish species since 1986.  If a species’ volume declines, often through quite natural fluctuations, then the Total Allowable Catch is reduced.

Undersea New Zealand, a high resolution image of the complex and diverse marine realm around New Zealand. Undersea New Zealand provides a unique insight into the shape of the seafloor within one of the world's most extensive deepwater jurisdictions. New Zealand straddles an active plate margin, creating a highly complex and diverse seascape of submarine trenches, underwater volcanoes, active submarine canyons and quiescent broad plateaux. Copyright 2012 NIWA. http://www.niwa.co.nz/news/new-map-reveals-new-zealand%E2%80%99s-seafloor-in-stunning-detail

Undersea New Zealand, a high resolution image of the complex and diverse marine realm around New Zealand. Undersea New Zealand provides a unique insight into the shape of the seafloor within one of the world’s most extensive deepwater jurisdictions. New Zealand straddles an active plate margin, creating a highly complex and diverse seascape of submarine trenches, underwater volcanoes, active submarine canyons and quiescent broad plateaux. Copyright 2012 NIWA.
http://www.niwa.co.nz/news/new-map-reveals-new-zealand%E2%80%99s-seafloor-in-stunning-detail

The Ministry for Primary Industries reported last year that only 0.5 per cent of our fish stocks are below the ‘hard limit’ where closures or reductions were necessary.

Recreational fishers through New Zealand are reporting significantly increased catches over a range of species.

Commercial inshore stocks are blossoming, with evidence both anecdotal and scientific.

The major Campbell Island southern blue whiting fishery numbers are at a historic high.

Other deepwater fisheries, such as the much-pointed-at orange roughy, are increasing, with 140 million of them in our seas.  The industry itself has set catch targets below the QMS level as an additional assurance that the orange roughy numbers will continue to increase over the next few years.

Marine Reserves obviously have a role in protecting particular areas, either for the unique or fragile nature of the ecosystem, or because they are where fish or other marine species breed.  They are targeted and have usually achieved a greater biodiversity within and beyond where they are because of their special nature.

But the same formula does not work for every environment.  Marine Reserves everywhere may make a good slogan, but the slogan is biologically naive.

Jay Harkness compares the third of the New Zealand land area ‘managed for conservation purposes’, with a presumed miniscule proportion of the sea area.

Both ends of this need examining.  The land area ‘managed for conservation purposes’ is under a plethora of protection measures, including a World Heritage Area, National Parks, Nature Reserves (such as Kapiti Island) Scientific Reserves (Mana Island) as well as Scientific and Historic Reserves (Matiu Island).  Landowners have covenanted 122,275 hectares of land under the QEII Trust.  Diverse forms of Maori stewardship apply to large areas.  One formula is not used alone.  Conservation is targeted and tailored.

Likewise, for the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone of our seas, the Benthic Protection Areas cover, interestingly enough, one third of the entire seabed.  This vast region of seabed can’t be fished, effectively giving the same protection as a marine reserve would give.

There are Marine Parks and the Marine Mammal Sanctuaries.  There are targeted fishing restrictions to protect Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins (though ridiculously overextended to areas where the dolphins aren’t) as well as regulations about when and how to catch various species of fish and how big or small they are allowed to be.

Controls over commercial fishing, and its monitoring and enforcement, are more than those for any land based primary industry.  Though some rules are dated, and some are not sensible, the overall system will supply New Zealand customers and export markets with seafood for many generations to come.

Multiple Users: Can Fishing & Oil Drilling (and even Deep-sea Mining) co-exist?

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A story in Atuna (12 April 2013) announces a study into the Great Australian Bight, and the interactions of multiple users and their effects one each other; in particular the effects of drilling on fishstocks.

This couldn’t be anymore timely. Globally this issue of multiple use has emerged as technology has developed and other users such as oil drillers  have begun to prospect marine areas that have been the domain of fisheries…

This is a real issue in New Zealand where there has been prospecting for oil, and and even deep sea phosphate mining occurring within or adjacent to productive fishing grounds.

In Australia Oil reserves coincide with southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) grounds…

Ac cording to Atuna:

The Australian southern bluefin tuna industry has welcomed new research into the Great Australian Bight [where] an AUS$ 20 million whole of ecosystem study has been announced that will look at the economic, environmental and social value of the Bight.

Oil giant BP is funding some of the research. 

Map of Australia, showing the Great Australian Bight. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Australian_Bight

Map of Australia, showing the Great Australian Bight.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Australian_Bight

The tuna industry has had concerns in the past about the company’s exploration for oil and gas in the area; but Brian Jeffriess, from the tuna industry, says this research is welcome.

Unless you understand the ecosystem, understand how each of the users of that ecosystem whether they be new ones like BP or older ones like ourselves, we need to be responsible and need to recognize that we each have mutual obligations to us and the South Australian community.”

So what is Down There and how does it coincide with Bluefin Tuna?

A GeoScience Australia press release (05 April 2010) Geoscience Australia identified three new deep water hydrocarbon provinces announces:

Three significant new oil and gas regions have been identified off Australia’s coast, raising the potential for a wave of offshore exploration that could create booming new resources hubs around the nation. A combination of new technology and the high price of oil has prompted the commonwealth’s Geoscience Australia survey body to push technical limits and explore frontier areas in deep water, turning up startling new resource potential.

Geoscience Australia has identified the Bight basin as a new deepwater hydrocarbon province.
http://www.energy-pedia.com/news/australia/geoscience-australia-identifies-three-new-deep-water-hydrocarbon-provinces

One of the regions, the South Australian end of the Great Australian Bight, has been opened for exploration and has already attracted strong bids ahead of the April 29 deadline. But extracting any oil and gas from this area will mean overcoming significant challenges, including heavy seas and wells deeper than any in operation around the nation.

In addition to the Bight, Geoscience Australia has uncovered strong indications of petroleum in basins near the Lord Howe Rise, 800km east of Brisbane, and on the Wallaby Plateau, 500km off the West Australian coast and next to the existing North West Shelf gas zone.

Which could be good news for the Australian Economy… But what of existing use… Bluefin Tuna is good for the Australian Economy too!!

According to the Australian Government these two resources spatially coincide:

Southern bluefin tuna spawning ground and migration pattern within and out of Australian waters. The 200-mile Australian fishing zone is indicated by the solid line and the horizontal hatching indicates the composite distribution of the Australian surface fishery. The general distribution of Japanese longline fishing is inset. (Modified from Majkowski et al., 1988). http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/t1817e/T1817E17.htm

Southern bluefin tuna spawning ground and migration pattern within and out of Australian waters. The 200-mile Australian fishing zone is indicated by the solid line and the horizontal hatching indicates the composite distribution of the Australian surface fishery. (Modified from Majkowski et al., 1988).
http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/t1817e/T1817E17.htm

According to the Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Poulation and Communities:

[The] Adult Southern Bluefin Tuna in Australian waters, ranges widely from northern Western Australia (WA) to the southern region of the continent, including Tasmania, and to northern New South Wales, appearing in eastern Australian waters mainly during winter (Caton 1991; CCSBT 2009; Honda et al. 2010; NSW DPI FSC n.d.). Juveniles of one to two years of age inhabit inshore waters in WA and South Australia (Honda et al. 2010).

The Southern Bluefin Tuna is highly migratory, occurring globally in waters between 30–50° S, though the species is mainly found in the eastern Indian Ocean and in the south-west Pacific Ocean. There is a single known spawning ground between Java and northern WA (TSSC 2010aw).

Given What is happening in New Zealand with Chatham Rise Phosphate… I am going to keep up with how the Aussies deal with this overlap!

Multiple Users: Can Fishing & Deep-sea Phosphate Mining that spatially coincide, co-exist?

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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.”

rock phosphate

POTENTIAL RICHES AHOY: Scientist Ray Wood with samples of rock phosphate and the green sediment it lies in on the Chatham Rise. PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ

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.

Chatham Rock Phosphate has identified a mineable deposit of phosphate nodules covering an area of 380km2 at 400m water depth. The company estimates that the deposit contains 65,000t/km2 of phosphate. Mining at a rate of 1.5Mt/y of rock phosphate could start using large dredges as early as the end of 2013.  http://www.miningmagazine.com/management-in-action/mining-the-oceans

Chatham Rock Phosphate has identified a mineable deposit of phosphate nodules covering an area of 380km2 at 400m water depth. The company estimates that the deposit contains 65,000t/km2 of phosphate. Mining at a rate of 1.5Mt/y of rock phosphate could start using large dredges as early as the end of 2013.
http://www.miningmagazine.com/management-in-action/mining-the-oceans

Map of the location of rock phosphate (brown hatching) & Location of CRP Licence (pink). http://rockphosphate.co.nz/

Map of the location of rock phosphate (brown hatching) & Location of CRP Licence (pink).
http://rockphosphate.co.nz/

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:

New Zealand’s Territorial Sea, EEZ and the BPAs and Seamount Closures within it (Adapted from Fig.1. From Helson et al. 2010. Private rights, public benefits: Industry-driven seabed protection. Marine Policy, Volume 34, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 557-566).

New Zealand’s Territorial Sea, EEZ and the BPAs and Seamount Closures within it (Adapted from Fig.1. From Helson et al. 2010. Private rights, public benefits: Industry-driven seabed protection. Marine Policy, Volume 34, Issue 3, May 2010, Pages 557-566).

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.

Fig. 4. Location of mineral prospecting and exploration permits (granted or submitted) within the Kermadec, Tectonic Reach, and mid-Chatham Rise BPAs. Data from www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/minerals/permits/permit%20boundaries.

Fig. 4. Location of mineral prospecting and exploration permits (granted or submitted) within the Kermadec, Tectonic Reach, and mid-Chatham Rise BPAs. Data from http://www.nzpam.govt.nz/cms/minerals/permits/permit%20boundaries.

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.

Cumulative area trawled by TCEPR vessels, 1990–2008. http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/report-cards/seabed-trawling/2010/

Cumulative area trawled by TCEPR vessels, 1990–2008.
http://www.mfe.govt.nz/environmental-reporting/report-cards/seabed-trawling/2010/

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.