‘We do not consent’: Pacific Indigenous leaders reject deep-sea mining plans

Grey reef sharks, Fakarava
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Pacific Indigenous leaders have called for a ban on deep-sea mining. Indigenous activists delivered their plea to the body that ultimately determines whether commercial deep-sea mining goes ahead – the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – at its latest meeting in Jamaica.

The call for a ban makes it clear that if the ISA greenlights such mining, it will be without these Indigenous people’s consent. They join many others in expressing opposition to commercial exploitation of this kind, including countries, hundreds of marine experts, and ocean-focused nonprofits.

Deep-sea mining is a huge threat

The ISA is meeting in Jamaica through to 31 March. Hashing out regulations for the governance of deep-sea mining is top of the agenda for the weeks-long session.

Deep-sea mining is a highly controversial emerging sector that hopes to scour the seabed for minerals. The ISA has already granted dozens of exploration contracts for such mining. Commercial exploitation has not yet started. However, the small island nation of Nauru triggered what’s called a two-year-rule at the ISA in 2021. This could potentially lead to commercial mining starting as early as July this year.

In February, researchers released a paper on the subject. It warned that deep sea mining could pose a “significant risk to ocean ecosystems”, including to endangered species like blue whales. In the face of the “long lasting and irreversible” impacts such mining could have, the paper’s authors called for an “urgent assessment” of the dangers.

Arriving in Kingston, Jamaica to observe the ISA meeting, Indigenous activists also laid out their concerns. Alanna Matamaru Smith, from the Cook Islands’ Te Ipukarea Society, said:

We are not in a position to add any new stress to our oceans by allowing deep sea mining to start. Overfishing, ocean pollution, and rising temperatures have already taken a huge toll on our high seas and we have done a poor job at mitigating these current stressors. So why are we even considering a new layer of destruction to an ecosystem that provides so much for us? We need to start giving back to our ocean, not deprive it of its wonders

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Additionally, Hawaiian indigenous speaker and activist Solomon Kaho’ohalahala commented:

We are calling for an immediate ban on deep sea mining because we need drastic changes in the way we manage our oceans. The threat of deep sea mining is huge. So our measures to protect the ocean and the life within it must be huge also. My people have lived in and around the ocean for generations. It’s who we are. We are the ocean and we must act now

No consent for deep-sea mining

Activists at the ISA meeting, some of whom arrived by Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise, handed over a petition signed by more than 1,000 people. The signatories come from 34 countries and include people from 56 Indigenous groups. In the petition, they challenge governments and the ISA to enact an immediate ban on deep sea mining.

The lack of consent from the Indigenous signatories for the ISA to greenlight the start of commercial mining is explicit:

We refuse to allow any further harm to our sacred ocean.
We refuse to further damage the intricate web of life that we are part of and depend on for our survival.
We refuse to allow governments and corporations to sell out the future of our children and life on our planet.

This throws down the gauntlet for the ISA. Its secretary-general – Michael W Lodge – commended recent international agreements, such as the biodiversity agreement and the high seas treaty, in his comments at the opening of the ISA meeting. Both of these new global frameworks emphasise the importance of including Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ views and knowledge in decision-making.

ISA faces bias accusations

The ISA’s secretariat has, however, faced accusations over recent years that it is biased towards allowing mining to take place. Most recently, German officials levelled criticism at Lodge over a perceived lack of neutrality, as the New York Times reported. Germany is among the countries that have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.

Lodge has denied lacking neutrality. An ISA spokesperson told the Guardian:

The role of the secretariat is not to pass judgment on the position of member states, but to facilitate negotiations and ensure that discussions are informed by the best available science and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 agreement. The secretariat carries out this mission carefully, deliberately and to the best of its abilities.

Featured image via Jayne Jenkins / Ocean Image Bank, cropped to 770×403

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