environment

Stop Māui dolphin miner access ‘immediately’

An array of environmental groups has written to the Government, asking it to immediately put a halt to mining exploration inside a marine sanctuary for endangered Māui dolphins.

Last week, Newsroom revealed a mining exploration permit had been quietly granted inside the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary, set up in 2008 with the express purpose of protecting the critically endangered Māui dolphins.

The decision shocked conservation groups who were unaware of the move, while the Department of Conversation said in an official briefing it had “significant concerns” about the risk posed to the dolphins.

Environmental groups Forest & Bird, Kiwis against Seabed Mining, the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and ECO have now written to Energy and Resources Minister Megan Woods asking her to “immediately protect this area”.

“The area in question is the habitat of our dwindling and critically endangered Māui dolphin. You can take action to protect them from minerals exploration and mining.”

The groups asked Woods to immediately close the sanctuary to any further minerals exploration or mining for three years, using Section 28A of the Crown Minerals Act.

It also said she should immediately withdraw the delegations given to NZ Petroleum and Minerals to issue exploration licences in the North or South Taranaki Bight, “or an areas within the habitat of the Māui dolphin or any other endangered marine mammal”.

“Any kind of minerals exploration with the habitat of the Māui dolphin is unacceptable. We urge you to take this action immediately, to protect one of the world’s most endangered dolphins,” the group told Woods.

It’s unclear whether the Government would be able to use the law in the way proposed by the groups.

Section 28A of the Crown Minerals Act stipulates that any decision not to grant a permit can only be granted if “necessary to better meet the purpose of the act”, which does not currently include any environmental considerations.

In November last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signalled the Government would tighten the criteria for exploration permits after it struggled to deny a permit to the Amazon Warrior, the world’s largest seismic survey ship.

"[The Crown Minerals Act] sets out some quite strict criteria on which we can make a decision - much stricter than I would have thought would be reasonable,” Ardern said at the time.

"I think it is only fair that we now look at whether that legislation is fit for purpose."

A spokesman for Woods said: “As the minister has said before, this decision was made under the very strict criteria under the Crown Minerals Act inherited from the previous Government.

“It’s important to note that if the operator did wish to move to a mining permit they would need to go through a full process including public consultation.”

In a March briefing to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, the Department of Conservation said the granting of the permit to Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd could pose a significant risk to Māui dolphins in the area.

Sage told Newsroom last week DOC could advocate on behalf of the Māui dolphins if Ironsands sought consents to start mining.

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