Should we be surveying for minerals in world heritage sites?
The Government has confirmed plans to survey for minerals in world heritage sites on the West Coast.
Aeromagnetic surveying will be conducted in the South Island from Haast to Karamea, including large chunks of Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand world heritage area.
The surveying follows a similar project in Northland last year, when more than 13,590 square kilometres of the region were surveyed from February to August. That was followed by an announcement from Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley this month, of a competitive tender process for exploration permits for metallic minerals in the region.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) ranks Te Wahipounamu as one of 183 natural heritage properties worldwide considered to have outstanding universal value.
The Conservation Department says it is one the great natural areas of the world, with "landscapes of untouched beauty".
The West Coast surveys will not include areas protected under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. However, the schedule does not prevent mining in world heritage areas such as Te Wahipounamu.
Economic Development Ministry spokeswoman Tracy Dillimore said yesterday that Te Wahipounamu would be surveyed to provide a good understanding of the geology and mineral potential of the wider area.
"New Zealand is potentially highly prospective for a wide range of minerals. The Government would like to see New Zealand maximise the benefits of safe and environmentally responsible development by reputable operators."
However, Te Wahipounamu would not form any part of a competitive tender that might be offered, she said.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the advisory body to Unesco on natural sites, called on the Government last year to prevent mining in world heritage areas.
Spokesman Cath Wallace said the international community would look closely at what the Government was doing. "Proposals to include world heritage areas in exploration, prospecting or mining will further alarm the international conservation community."
In 2010, the Government backed down on plans to allow mining in protected conservation areas.
After a strong public backlash, Prime Minister John Key said the Government would not remove any land from Schedule 4 for the purposes of mining, and would instead focus on mineral wealth outside conservation areas.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said the Government strategy appeared to be finding minerals in inappropriate areas and then removing those places from protection.
"Otherwise why would you? Are they going to tell Unesco that their designation of this area as internationally significant is less important than allowing some overseas company to dig it up?"
Delahunty was at the presentation of the Northland survey and said it was all about mining. "The mining industry were the only people there apart from somewhat annoyed kaumatua. There weren't any farmers there, there weren't any tourism people there ... because it's about identifying mineral sites."
The survey is part of the West Coast Geophysical Data Acquisition and Processing project and will cost $1.67 million.
Aeromagnetic surveys involve a plane carrying special equipment flying over the area. Information gathered is commonly used to plan for mineral exploration but can also aid geological mapping, geothermal exploration, forestry, agriculture and horticulture.
Results are due in the second quarter of 2013.
What won't be surveyed?
Areas in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act: Fiordland National Park, Mt Aspiring National Park, Westland Tai Poutini National Park and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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