05 February 2021 – Northern Territory Permanently Bans Seabed Mining
VIEW MEDIA RELEASE
5 February 2021
Moratorium had been extended twice by both the Country Liberal party and Labor governments.
Seabed mining will be permanently banned in the Northern Territory after an almost decade-long moratorium on the destructive practice runs out next month, the territory government has announced.
Conservationists, traditional owner representatives and the territory’s mining lobby all welcomed the decision, announced on Friday morning.
The territory’s environment minister, Eva Lawler, said in making the decision the government was protecting the natural environment and the jobs that relied on it.
“Our natural environment is one of our best assets and it’s a large part of what makes living in the territory so special,” she said.
The decision comes after both the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority sent seperate reports to the government last year on seabed mining.
The EPA report said there had been 26 applications to carry out explorations and mining in the territory’s waters before the moratorium came into effect in 2012.
The moratorium was extended twice by both the Country Liberal party and Labor governments.
The EPA report said likely targets for mining companies were gold, diamonds, rare earth minerals, salt deposits and other minerals including manganese, phosphate and bauxite.
The report said: “The techniques available for seabed exploration and mining are continually advancing and the methods most likely to be used in coastal waters of the Northern Territory involve scraping or excavating the seabed using hydraulic or mechanical dredges.”
The Aboriginal Area’s Protection Authority told the Guardian it had requested the moratorium be extended, and fully supported the government’s decision to replace the block with a permanent ban. “Even small-scale seabed mining activities may interfere with or damage marine sacred sites,” it said in a statement.
In 2016, the Anindilyakwa Land Council, which represents the traditional owners of the Groote archipelago – an area which had been identified by seabed mining companies for its manganese deposits – said traditional owners believed sand mining would “destroy sacred sites and songlines that are central to Anindilyakwa culture and identity”.
Adele Pedder, a marine conservation campaigner at Keep Top End Coasts Healthy, said traditional owners, environment groups, commercial and recreational fishers, tourism operators and scientists had all raised concerns about the potential impacts of a seabed mining industry.
She said conservationists had been concerned the EPA report was part of a process that would have paved the way for a go ahead for seabed mining.
She said mining corporations had applied to mine “some of our most precious places” including Fog, Anson and Blue Mud Bays, the Wessel Islands and Limmen Bight.
“The Top End has some of the last healthy tropical coasts in the world. Seabed mining is like bulldozing the seafloor. It would decimate our marine life, pollute our waters, threaten our fishing and destroy places of cultural significance.”
She said the Gunner government had “demonstrated their commitment to protect our coasts and safeguard our fishing, lifestyle and regional economies.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokeswoman Nelli Stevenson said it was a “great day for common sense”, adding: “Mining the sea floor is an absolutely insane idea, and the Northern Territory government has made a critically important move in banning it.”
Drew Wagner, executive director of the Minerals Council of Australia’s Northern Territory division, told the Guardian he also welcomed the decision.
“Moratoriums are a blunt instrument and the reality was that we advised that sea bed mining was not necessary. We are quite pleased this blunt instrument has been removed.
“We don’t have the evidence on a risk-based scenario to say it’s safe for the territory’s environment or that it can be done in a safe and protective way. If you can’t prove that it’s safe then it won’t be entertained.”