The world's rarest dolphin could become extinct if a seabed mining scheme near the west coast feeding grounds of the Maui's dolphin gets the go ahead, say environmentalists.
The critically endangered Maui's dolphin, of which there were an estimated 55 adults left in 2012, was the prime concern of many submitters in Hamilton yesterday during the second day of an Environmental Protection Agency hearing into Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) application to annually mine 50 million tonnes of seabed material.
Raglan's Whaingaroa Environment Centre worker Danielle Hart called for the agency to dismiss the application, relating to a 65.76 square kilometre zone about 22 to 36 kilometres off Patea, because of the threat to Maui's dolphin.
"Maui is at a critically low level - we cannot afford to take risks and lose even one individual," she said.
Hart said New Zealand was being asked to put the marine environment at risk for business purposes.
"I've heard numerous concerns from people in the community, and further afield, about TTR's application."
Hart said Maui Dolphin Day, at Raglan, was attended by 2000 people every year.
"People battle the winds to stand on the beach, join hands and send a message."
Maui's and Hector's Dolphins Education/Action Inc chairperson Christine Rose said 70,000 people in New Zealand had signed petitions calling for protection of the two dolphin species.
"Even conservative Government experts concede that Maui's dolphins cannot sustain a single human-induced mortality in any 10- to 23-year period if the species is to survive . . . The effects of seabed mining on top of the other threats such as some types of fishing are a step too far."
Rose said both the Department of Conservation and Maui's and Hector's Dolphin Threat Management Plan had identified seabed mining as an important threat.
"TTR's experts admit the limits to their knowledge . . . They are taking a best guess at noise effects from the seabed mining operation and are working on incomplete information about dolphin distribution . . .
"Potential effects on Maui's and Hector's dolphin include noise, collisions with vessels and mining equipment, habitat displacement and damage, pollution and secondary effects from the plume on food prey species, including in the coastal habitat."
Rose said it was of major concern that no base line of habitat occupation or potential effects existed and there was a lack of systematic science.
"TTR fail to scientifically establish an absence of dolphins from the area. They also fail to establish an absence of effects.
"The critically endangered status of Maui's and Hectors dolphins, and moral and international obligations require all efforts to ensure the preservation but also the recovery of this species.
"This requires avoiding introducing new threats into the dolphins' habitat - out to at least 100m deep, and in the dolphin corridor between the North and South Islands."
Raglan resident John Lawson said a lot of the information surrounding the application was either uncertain or incomplete.
"We need to wait until we do know . . . Adjourn this hearing until you have got more information."
Agency hearing committee chair Greg Hill, with members Gillian Wratt, Brett Rogers, William Kapea and Stephen Christensen, are considering 60,000 pages of submissions in their decision-making process.
The hearing is expected to conclude on Friday and then moves to New Plymouth.
- Waikato Times