Environmental advocates and others have welcomed the extension of the seabed mining moratorium, calling it a win for the Northern Territory’s coastline and “a great day for common sense.”
The NT Government has declared its intention to permanently ban seabed mining in the NT’s coastal waters, citing the potential impact on the environment, sacred Indigenous sites, and marine industries.
A moratorium on seabed mining activities in NT coastal waters has been in place since March 2012 and is set to expire on March 5. The moratorium covers 17.5 per cent of Australia’s vast marine territory. It was previously extended consecutively by both the CLP and the ALP.
“It will be extended for up to another six months to allow for the Environment Minister to consult on the draft prohibition declaration, and how it will operate in NT coastal waters,” the NT Government said in a statement.
The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) sent separate reports to the government in 2020 on seabed mining.
The report mentions there had been an increased interest in exploring mineral resources in the marine environment of the NT with 26 applications to carry out exploration and extraction before the moratorium came into effect in 2012.
It also found that amid soaring prices of gold, diamonds, rare earth minerals, salt deposits and other minerals including manganese, phosphate and bauxite, mining companies look to assess new methods of resource extraction.
“Our natural environment is one of our best assets and it’s a large part of what makes living in the Territory so special,” Environment Minister Eva Lawler said. “It is important that our unique environment and the jobs that rely on it are protected.”
Adele Pedder, coordinator for Keep Top End Coasts Healthy, who has been a staunch advocate against seabed mining in the NT, has feared that if the temporary ban expires mining companies could exploit 9600sq/km of Territory coasts – an area eight times the size of Darwin Harbour.
“The Top End has some of the last healthy tropical coasts in the world,” Ms Pedder said. “Destructive seabed mining is like bulldozing the seafloor. This would decimate our marine life, pollute our waters, threaten our fishing and destroy places of cultural significance.”
Their organization has welcomed the new moratorium writing on the social media page, “This is a huge win for Territory coasts!”
“To everyone who sent a submission, spoke to a politician, spread the word on social media, or helped in any other way – thank you!”
“We love our coasts and Top End lifestyle, and we will all benefit from this decision.”
Other Territory environmental groups and traditional owners have also welcomed the ban.
“This is a great day for common sense and the protection of our precious oceans,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific spokesperson Nelli Stevenson. “Mining the sea floor is an absolutely insane idea, and the Northern Territory Government has made a critically important move in banning it.
“The ocean must remain off-limits to the mining industry to prevent further biodiversity destruction and potentially damaging a critical carbon sink.”
The Minerals Council of Australia NT director Drew Wagner told ABC he supported the decision to ban seabed mining and praised the government for creating certainty for industry by announcing the permanent ban.
“It’s good to see we are seeing clear, distinct and discreet signals, rather than … the blunt instrument that is a moratorium,” Mr Wagner said.
“It’s still not proven. Scientifically the risks are still there.”