Tongans say no to seabed mining

Nuku’alofa, TONGA – November 4, 2020: 11am (PEJN/RNZ PACIFIC): Tongans do not want to have anything with seabed mining.

And they are seeking answers from the government over its plans for seabed mining in the country’s waters.

A national consultation on seabed mining in Tonga was held by video link-up on Tuesday, November 3.

That included representatives from the five island groups.

Church, civil society, youth groups as well as members of the fishing and tourism sectors also participated in the consultation, which was opened by the prime minister.

The Chair of Tonga’s Civil Society Forum, Drew Havea, said people want more information from government about the implications of potential seabed mining.

He said there’s concern that the government is to sponsor exploration by a subsidiary of a company linked to a failed deepsea mining project in Papua New Guinea.

“The ocean supports us. The ocean is the main livelihood for ninety percent of the people. But we need to know what our government is doing, and if they sign up the ocean (by sponsoring an exploration license) what’s going to happen to that ninety percent of the population,” Drew Havea said.

Havea said there was concern that if the subsidiary, Tonga Offshore Mineral Limited, violated its contractual obligation with the International Seabed Authority, Tonga might be left with a heavy bill to pay.

Advocates of seabed mining say it causes far less environmental damage than land-based mining, and offers significant economic benefits for island countries.

Tonga Offshore Mineral Limited Tonga manager Christine Pomee told the PEJN in a meeting that they do not mine anywhere within the Tonga EEZ but do that out in Asia.

"So that in itself should be an assurance that we are not doing anything that will harm Tonga in anyway," she said.

"And yes the work done with seabed mining is safer than land mining."

But people in the consultation were worried that the cost of environmental damage from deepsea mining activities could far outweigh the benefits.

“All the five island groups said no: No seabed mining for my island; no seabed mining for my region; and no seabed mining for my world. All unanimous, saying no,” Havea explained.

“So we will take that message to the prime minister and cabinet.”

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