NZ to help map future of seabed mining in Pacific

New Zealand will be represented at a meeting in Fiji next week to map out the future of seabed mining in the Pacific.

The potentially lucrative industry has raised concerns from environmentalists and rights groups, and 15 Pacific nations will be involved in the meeting, to be held in Nadi from Friday.

Companies are already mining ironsands off New Zealand's west coast, and there are proposals to mine gold, copper and zinc on the Kermadec Arc, phosphate on the Chatham Rise, and gold off Westland.

New Zealand researchers have dredged up fist-sized mineral samples containing 18 percent zinc (by weight), 15 percent copper, and six parts per million of gold -- a higher concentration than some on-shore gold deposits.

The initial finds were along the Kermadec Arc, northeast of New Zealand, and an international prospector, Neptune Minerals Plc, has said it has since found two big seabed mineral deposits it wants to mine.

New Zealand controls the world's fourth-largest area of seabed, but the Resource Management Act which provides an omnibus protection for the environment does not apply beyond the 12-mile territorial limit.

The Government is expected to look to its new Environmental Protection Authority or Maritime New Zealand to carry out environmental checks on seabed mining.

Separately, a New Zealand company, Widespread Energy Ltd has proposed mining seabed rock phosphate on the Chatham rise, and another, Seafield Resources is searching the seabed off Westland for gold, ilmenite, rutile, platinum and garnets.

AAP reported the Papua New Guinean government granted the world's first commercial lease for deep-sea mining in January to Canadian-based Nautilus Minerals, which is set to extract gold and copper from the sea floor 50km off PNG's north coast.

About eight other Pacific nations have recently granted exploration licences for the new industry, but, there are few policy and regulation guidelines to manage it.

A deep sea minerals project has been funded by the European Union to be administered by the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission.

The project's team leader, Akuila Tawake, told AAP the Fiji meeting would provide a much-needed framework.

But two Pacific advocacy groups have spoken out strongly against the meeting.

Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of Fiji-based Pacific Network on Globalisation, said individual governments needed to first consult their own citizens about ocean mining.

"It doesn't seem right to be having regional talks when countries haven't had the discussion with their own people," Ms Penjueli told AAP.

Effrey Dademo, programme manager with PNG anti-mining group Act Now, said the meeting was "too little, far too late" for her country, where a licence had already been granted.


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