Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority
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Cook Islander on NIWA Seabed Survey in Chatham Rise (NZ)

Cook Islands Geographic Information System (GIS) Officer at the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority (SBMA), Ms. Rima Browne has been invited to participate in a 3 week Open Ocean Exploration survey with New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). Departing Wellington on the MV Tangaroa from Burnham Wharf on June 10 the ship sailed south-east out to the Chatham Rise, where there are Phosphate Nodules on its seabed.

The reason for this New Zealand seabed research is that the NZ agricultural sector relies heavily on imported rock-phosphate-based fertilizer for farming efficiency, and due to the depletion of rock phosphate in the SW Pacific region, this has resulted in an opportunity for the production of locally based sources of phosphate from seabed resources in New Zealand’s own EEZ.

 

The scientific research Survey is the second of three which will focus on Environmental aspects, as part of its ROBES program, Resilience of benthic communities to the effects of sedimentation. Understanding such impacts in the deep ocean is challenging but is important for evaluating the effects on the environment of human activities and developing options to manage them.

Such research, is also of crucial importance to the Cook Islands, as we develop our own understanding and capacity regarding our emerging national deep sea minerals sector, related to our Cobalt rich Nodules.

 

The scientific research cruise will involve field surveys, on-site observations, and laboratory-based experiments will be carried out to determine the potential effects of seabed disturbance on benthic life. Onboard Browne will be part of NIWA’s general biological group, looking at seafloor imagery, doing multi-corer sampling, CTD water sampling, live capture of sponges and corals for lab experimentation, and see benthic landers, mooring recovery, and an ocean glider, in action.

 

The only known location for phosphate mineralisation with economic potential in New Zealand is on the crest of the Chatham Rise located in open waters at a depth of 400m-500m, more than 400km offshore. Phosphate deposits here have been subject to episodic exploration, since its discovery in the late 1950s with most of the exploration taking place in the 1970s and early 1980s, focussed on areas previously determined to be the most prospective. Renewed interest by Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd.  in the 2010s and the granting of a 20-year seabed mining permit in late 2013 from NZPAM, has led to more surveys and studies being carried out in the area. However, rejection by NZ’s EPA to grant Chatham Rock Phosphate Ltd. a permit to conduct mining activity has also led to the need for more environmental surveys and studies to be carried out in the area.

 

The Cook Islands has a similar interest in seabed minerals to New Zealand. However, our seabed minerals are called Polymetallic Manganese Nodules (the target metal being cobalt – for electic vehicle batteries) and are located hundreds of kilometres from any island and are sitting at a depth of 5,000m – 6,000m on the top of the deep seabed. Nevertheless, scientific equipment used and experiments conducted during the cruise will be similar to those that the Cook Islands Government would expect from contractors wanting to conduct exploration work in our EEZ. Therefore, this opportunity will serve as an invaluable learning experience and capacity building exercise for Browne as the Cook Islands look to develop its own seabed minerals sector. The knowledge and experience gained from this calibre of research will allow Browne to return home and share what she has learnt with relevant agencies in the SBM sector.

  

One photo is of Rima before leaving Wellington, one is of other participants and one is of the MV Tangaroa bridge.

Rima Browne