The greenwashing of deep sea mining

The greenwashing of deep sea mining

Greenwashing: “To provide misleading information about how a company is environmentally sound”

The opinion piece in last Saturday’s paper by Mike Tavioni raises a number of  important issues for the 2022 election  We agree that all his listed topics are very important issues for would-be parliamentarians to consider.  However, we believe his understanding of polymetallic nodules should be treated with caution as it is perhaps influenced by greenwashing tactics around deep sea mining which has going on for a number of years

It is very misleading not to name this prospective industry for what it is: “DEEP SEA MINING”. In the article the word “collecting”  is specifically used instead of mining. This is exactly the sort of propaganda the mining companies use when referring to their intended activities. These companies do not even include the word “mining” in their company names. They know very well the connotations associated with  that word  brings images of environmental devastation to mind..

These mining companies attempt to improve their public image  and pass themselves off as “research organisations”  rather than what they actually are. “Research” for these companies via exploration is just a means to make money from the minerals on the seabed, with minimal regard for the environmental impacts..

We need to put comments in the article into context and consider whether it is possible that mining companies may have influenced the thinking on this issue. According to the information provided in their application for a seabed mining exploration licence, mining company Cook Islands Cobalt has set up and funded The Cook Islands Traditional Arts Trust (Te Rito O Taku Peu Tupuna). That document also tells us that the first project of the Trust is to construct The Tavioni  Arts School Taura Vananga Trust.

There are some other flaws in the article’s logic as well.  For example the dredging of Bluff oysters and the lack of pollution from that long term fishery. You cannot compare shallow water oyster dredging to deep sea mining. Shallow water environments are much more dynamic than deep waters. Therefore, deep-sea organisms are not as resilient to disturbances.

There is also no mention of the environmental destruction caused to the reefs that are dredged for oysters.This is a quote regarding the Bluff oyster fishery from a New Zealand Geographic Magazine article, issue 84 in 2007, by oyster scientist Dr. John Cranfield.  He spent 32 years as a researcher at the New Zealand Institute for Water and Atmosphere (NIWA)

“ today the oyster population has been reduced below 10 per cent of its size in the 1960s (when the population was first estimated) and the area of oyster beds actually dredged has probably been reduced by an order of magnitude more. The seafloor of the oyster fishery, formerly covered by bands of complex biogenic reef, is now a barren desert of rapidly shifting sand or gravel. Elsewhere in the world such signs are called a fishery collapse”..

This month another mining company with a seabed mining exploration licence in the Cook Islands launched a naming competition for their new boat.  They have asked school children to come up with an appropriate name for their new mining exploration ship, with a significant cash prize for the school, and an iPadPro for the student.  Using words like ecologically sustainable development, preserve and protect, and the mana of the ocean, for an industry that could lead to the loss of a way of life for Pacific Islanders, is intended greenwashing.  Hopefully the schools and students will see this for the public relations exercise that it is. No-one will blame them for going after the prizes, but hopefully they will not be duped into believing there is anything ecologically sustainable about deep sea mining. Once those huge heavy machines crawl over the seabed sucking up nodules, the damage is irreversible. The nodules, currently golf-ball size, have taken millions of years to form. The animals that live on and around these nodules will be crushed by the machines or smothered in the plume and will never recover. Their home will be gone.

Interestingly enough, a number of comments on facebook have already come up with what could be considered more appropriate names for a vessel at the forefront of the destruction of our ocean’s health. These include Seabed Destroyer, Pacific Plunderer, and Deep Greed.  We would be happy to hear any other ideas for boat names readers may have (sorry, no iPad or $2000 available from us!)