Stages of Seabed Mineral Activity

These can be broadly divided into three stages: Prospecting, exploration and mining.

During the prospecting and exploration phase, exploration of the seabed will be done using oceanographic techniques to find the best mine sites and to map their extent. This is not expected to cause serious environmental harm as only low impact and mostly non-invasive, low impact geophysical and small scale sampling techniques are used. In addition all methods will need to be approved as part of the work programme and any proposals that are likely to significantly disrupt the seabed and water column will need to be assessed at the time of any approvals. During prospecting environmental baseline studies will be undertaken along with the geological and engineering assessments will be undertaken necessary for any commercial decisions on whether or not to invest in the next stages of exploration and development

Once sufficient data is collected, small-scale mining may be applied with any proposals as a testing ground for suitable mining systems and assessing environmental impact. This would only take place after the rigorous analysis of the proposal and environmental impact and mitigation studies required to be submitted for approval.

The final stage is commercial recovery, which would consist of removing nodules from the seabed surface, and conveying them to the ocean surface to the ship. As above before any mining takes place the applicant will prepare and submit detailed mining and environmental studies that will be assessed by a team of experts that will be appointed by the government to assist the regulatory agencies with their assessments on whether to approve (with conditions) or decline or require the applicant to modify their proposal to meet the government’s environmental standards.

Given the past surveys already undertaken in the Cook Islands, enough information is known about the seabed mineral resources in terms of prospecting. The stage of interest now is more in-depth exploration.

It is expected that the technology for commercial mining will be ready in 2021.
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