24 September, 2013
The Namibian Government has just imposed an eighteen month moratorium on a deep sea phosphate mining proposal identical to Chatham Rock Phosphate’s plan to mine off the coast of New Zealand.

Like Chatham Rock Phosphate’s proposal for the Chatham Rise, the Namibian proposal would have dredged millions of tonnes of seabed up to the surface, extracted the phosphate and then dumped the sediment back into the sea. Except the Namibia Marine Phoshate proposal would have mined in much shallower depths (180-300 metres), so the New Zealand project arguably has greater environmental risks.

This experimental approach has never been tried anywhere in the world so the impact of the vacuum and dump operation on the seabed environment is completely unknown.

The Namibia Press Agency is reporting that this week the Namibian Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources put the plan on hold while a full Environmental Impact Assessment is carried out.

Like the Deepwater Group here, the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations has opposed phosphate mining in Namibia. It too is concerned that sediment disruption and dumping will have a long-lasting detrimental effect on local fishery breeding grounds. The Confederation has argued that good on-site baseline research is required before mining begins, so that changes to the marine environment can be monitored and assurances given by the mining companies can be tested.

The Namibian Government now appears to agree and a scoping study has been commissioned. Until the data is in, there will be no phosphate mining.

In New Zealand, Chatham Rock Phosphate wants to conduct its mining operation in one of our underwater national parks, a benthic protection area off the Chatham Islands.

“We don’t have enough information to tell us what the likely environmental impact of this mining will be,” said George Clement, CEO of the Deepwater Group.

“Given the value of the fisheries at stake, that just makes it unacceptably risky.”

The Chatham Rock Phosphate proposal is soon to be submitted to the Environmental Protection Authority for consideration.

“If it’s good enough for Namibia to push pause while they gather the necessary research to test whether this mining is sustainable, then it must be good enough for New Zealand.”