A wave of opposition to seabed mining off the south Taranaki coast is growing as divers, fishermen and local iwi rally against the proposal.
Trans Tasman Resources has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for marine consent to extract iron sand from the sea floor 12-19 nautical miles offshore of Patea.
In its submission to the EPA, Taranaki Regional Council raised questions over the potential environmental impacts of the proposed 20-year project.
The mining area is in the Exclusive Economic Zone, just outside the council's jurisdiction but it is likely that discharged sediment would cross the boundary into the council-monitored area.
For that reason, the council wants to work with the EPA to monitor the mining activity, TRC director of resource management Fred McLay said.
"It would have been nice to have been involved earlier because of the cross-boundary issues."
Mr McLay said the sand plume created by the mining activity could potentially affect the wildlife in the rocky outcrops between 2 and 10km offshore, including features known as the North and South Traps.
"The North and South Traps are our prized coastal biodiversity and recreational assets, recognised by dive clubs," he said.
"There is a risk they could be affected, that risk is is yet to be determined."
Recreational fisher and diver Scott Williams said the diving off the south Taranaki coast was some of the best he'd done in the North Island.
"I've spent time in the water since I was 4-years-old, fishing with my dad and diving.
"I've seen orcas and dolphins here for years.
"It's a very nice reef, there's always crayfish and kingies." The nature of area as stormy and difficult to access made it a hidden secret of local fishers and divers, he said.
When people were told how good the diving was, they didn't believe it "then you show them photos . . . it's phenomenal".
Mr Williams said he wouldn't be opposed to the mining operation if it could be guaranteed it would not affect the fishing and diving area, but that was not the case.
Commercial fisher and charter operator Peter Robins said the sand plume would seriously affect the fishing in the area. "Fish don't like murky water."
He said TTR had been cagey about the details of their operation and its location. "They say one thing then do another."
South Taranaki iwi Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui also opposed the mining project, saying the proposal had too many unanswered questions.
"Based on the information provided, the heavy reliance on theoretical modelling and the potential risks posed to the environment, we view the risk to Ngati Ruanui being much greater than the benefits claimed," chairman Haimona Maruera said.
Chief executive Debbie Packer-Ngarewa said the economic benefits put forward didn't stack up.
"TTR commissioned a specific economic impact report, but it only provides a generalised view of economic opportunities largely from a national perspective," she said.
"There are no specific economic impact projections for the Taranaki region but most importantly the takiwa [tribal area] of Ngati Ruanui."
Earlier this week, NIWA scientists reported that 50 blue whales had been seen in the region, indicating the South Taranaki Bight could be a key foraging ground for the ocean giants.
Blue whales feed on phytoplankton, which was identified in TRC's submission as an organism whose growth would be prevented by a sand plume.
"That this area could be a crucial feeding ground for the blue whales alone should be reason enough for the EPA to reject seabed mining," Kiwis Against Seabed Mining chairperson Phil McCabe said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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