Whales will be affected by seabed mining, says expert

Oregon State University

Extraordinary new footage of blue whales feeding in South Taranaki Bight.

Seabed mining could send the blue whale population out of the South Taranaki Bight, says a marine mammal expert.

Dr Leigh Torres, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University who has studied the blue whale population in the area, made one of thousands of submissions opposing Trans Tasman Resources' application to mine 66 square kilometres off the west coast of South Taranaki for iron sand.

On Thursday the Environment Protection Authority ruled in favour of the mining company.

Seabed mining off the coast of Patea may drive away the blue whales.
Renee Woollaston

Seabed mining off the coast of Patea may drive away the blue whales.

Torres said while blue whales were adaptive and can tolerate impacts to a certain degree, they might adapt by moving away, which would see them lose their current feeding and breeding grounds. 

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"I think it's a big risk to take for the area, for the potential environmental consequences," Torres said.

Leigh Torres says seabed mining will have a severe impact on the whale population in the South Taranaki Bight.
Supplied

Leigh Torres says seabed mining will have a severe impact on the whale population in the South Taranaki Bight.

She said there were two main areas of concern for the blue whales - the first being the continuous low level noise.

"That's a big change. It's like having a washing machine going maybe, in your living room for 35 years."

Torres said the second concern was the sediment being stirred up that could impact on the mammals' ability to find and capture the krill they eat.

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer speaks at Patea School where the Environment Protection Authority released their decision to allow ...
SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer speaks at Patea School where the Environment Protection Authority released their decision to allow mining on the Patea seabed.

"The South Taranaki Bight already has a lot of industrial action with the wells there and shipping through the area."

It was hard to say what the overall consequences on the ecosystem would be, she said.

"What we've learned over time is it's all connected."

Chris Wilkes and Hemi Ngarewa at the EPA decision in Patea.
SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Chris Wilkes and Hemi Ngarewa at the EPA decision in Patea.

Trans Tasman Resources' mitigation strategies, which include deploying its own hydrophones to monitor the population, were a starting point but "somewhat minimalistic", the ecologist said.

"Their threshold for noise, I think is high...I think there's certainly room for improvement." 

Monitoring the whales was an essential part of the proposal, but the area the company monitored could be broadened, she said.

"I think we know very little about the blue whale population...A lot can still be learned in that area."

Torres was not ruling out being part of the appeal process, using new data about the whales that was still being analysed.

"I imagine I could share that with the decision making committee."

 - Stuff

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