Exploring the deep for minerals
While less than 1% of the Cook Islands territory is land (240 square kilometers), the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (CIZ) is a sizeable ~2 million square kilometers, with about 70% of that area very deep sea, up to ~6,000m in depth.
Our seabed minerals
From over 20 years of SPC research, we now know that we have a type of Seabed Mineral (SBM) called Manganese Nodules in great abundance in our CIZ. At the time of discovery it was known that this resource would be very valuable in future global minerals markets. These nodules have been found to contain cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese, titanium, and valuable Rare Earth Elements (REE). These nodules can be reduced to precious metals that are used in the communications and other industries, and for most smart and green technologies.
A new economic opportunity
Due to the growing interest in electric vehicles, increased demand for cobalt (a metal found in our manganese nodules) make the nodules found in the CIZ very appealing. This rare metal already powers our mobile phones, laptops and tablets and is also a key component of electric car batteries.
The Cook Islands Government knowing the value of this precious resource and with the help of SPC, and the Commonwealth Secretariat enacted the Seabed Minerals Act 2009 in an effort to develop this new economic sector. In the Act it is stated that all seabed minerals in the Cook Islands are vested in the Crown for the benefit of the Cook Islands people. We have the exclusive right to utilise and develop our national manganese resource for our national benefit.
The international deep sea sector is new and it is early days for the new industry. Nowhere in the world have any deep sea minerals been commercially extracted and nowhere in the world. Deep sea mineral exploration has been occurring in the international zone for 15 years or more under the control of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). It is through exploration that we can identify areas suitable (socially, and environmentally) for mineral extraction and the technology that can be used to sustainably recover these minerals.
Based on estimates, substantial revenue for the Cook Islands will be generated in about 3-5 years after mining commences.
What are nodules?
Manganese nodules are rocky lumps up to 10cm in size that sit on the seafloor at more than 5,000m below sea level. They are made up of many minerals including iron and manganese oxides as well as other commercially sought after metals such as Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Manganese, Titanium, Vanadium and Rare Earth Elements (REE). Occurring over large expanses of the abyssal plains at depths of 4,000-6,000m, nodules of up to 15cm diameter form through precipitation from the surrounding seawater or sediment waters over millions of years.
Our marine resources
This new economic avenue is pursued with much caution and thought given to the health of our existing fisheries sector. We must preserve our marine resources and existing ocean activities. The introduction of ‘Marae Moana’ by the Cook Islands Government in 2017, a multiple-use marine protected area covering the entirety of the CIZ, is the overarching framework that will ensure the protection of existing ocean activities as well as the health of our Moana Nui O Kiva.