Deep sea mining a possibility, but could harm tourist industry, warns ministry CEO

Oku lolotonga fai e fekumi na'a lava ke keli'i e ngaahi makakoloa i kilisitahi' Ka oku i ai e fakatokanga e ala lava ke uesia lahi heni 'a e mamata'anga tofua'a 'a Tonga.

Tonga is exploring the possibility of deep sea mining.

However, there have been warnings that mining the seabed could cause environmental problems and could harm Tonga’s whale watching industry.

Paula Ma’u, CEO of the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications, said eight ministries were developing a plan to sustain the ocean around the kingdom.

“We are still at the exploration stage only now as far as deep sea mining is concerned,” Ma’u said.

According to a report by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme the kingdom has already granted exploration licenses within its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Ma’u said the government wanted to develop an ocean management plan that would protect the Pacific ecosystem from activities such as deep-sea mining, transport routes and fishing, tourism.

A United Nations conference in Egypt this month was told the Pacific seabed could be worth millions of dollars in valuable minerals, making it a potential mining site.

Speaking at the meeting, Ma’u said deep-sea mining could be source of economic growth.

However, there were concerns about potential environmental and social affects.

He said deep sea ecosystems were already threatened by climate change and fishing.

“Across the Pacific, there is a widely recognised need for new industries to overcome poverty and to support economic and social development,” he said.

In 2014 Tonga passed the Tonga Seabed Minerals Act, to regulate exploration and exploitation activities within its national jurisdiction.

Tonga has committed itself to designating a third of its EEZ as a Marine Protected Areas by 2030 and to creating whale sanctuaries.

Ma’u said the potential affects of mining needed further investigation.

Mining could generate noise that would affect whales and other marine species, which could be a problem for the Tongan tourism industry which was highly dependent on whale watching.

The main points

  • Tonga is exploring the possibility of deep sea mining,
  • Paula Ma’u, CEO of the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications, said eight ministries were developing a plan to sustainably the ocean around the kingdom.
  • “We are still at the exploration stage only now as far as deep sea mining is concerned,” Ma’u said.

For more information

Tonga seeks support to determine the best way forward to explore seabed minerals while protecting its marine environment

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