July 17, 2018

Seabed Mining Threatens Critically Endangered Maui Dolphins

News Source: Care2

Author(s): Alicia Graef

Conservationists are speaking out after a controversial permit was approved for seabed mining exploration in a marine sanctuary for New Zealand’s critically endangered Maui dolphins.

The Maui dolphins at the center of this controversy are a subspecies of increasingly rare Hector’s dolphin, who can only be found on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Both were once abundant, but they’ve both continued to decline and today Maui dolphins are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Despite actions taken to protect them, including the creation of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary in 2008, they’ve yet to make a meaningful comeback. Now there are only estimated to 63 or fewer left in existence, and much more needs to be done to help them recover and thrive.

Unfortunately, their future was just put in further jeopardy by a five-year permit to allow Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd. to explore the seabed for minerals in the sanctuary, which was granted by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Exploration isn’t miningyet, but the company’s activities in the area will be disruptive and pose a serious threat to Maui dolphins, and to other marine life in the area, including whales, dolphins and seals, and it could lead to further activities in the area. As Whale and Dolphin Conservation Australasia’s Mike Bossley pointed out, “the exploration company must think there is a reasonable chance of getting such permission otherwise they would not go to the expense of exploring.”

Now, advocates for Maui dolphins, and organizations including Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WWF New Zealand and Greenpeace, are expressing shock and disappointment over the decision, and are calling on both the company to scrap its plans, and on the government to uphold its pledge to protect Maui dolphins by ensuring that no further extractive activities take place in their sanctuary.

“At WWF-New Zealand, we are shocked and deeply disappointed that this marine mining exploration permit has been granted inside Māui dolphin habitat. With only 63 adult dolphins left, this precious taonga is on the brink of extinction. Mining in their sanctuary is simply unacceptable,” said WWF CEO Livia Esterhazy. “While we understand that those applying for the permit and those granting the permit are simply following the letter of the law, you have to wonder whether they are thinking straight. It is a really bad idea to propose mining iron sands in this area, which is supposed to be a marine mammal sanctuary.”

While the Department of Conservation couldn’t have stopped the exploration permit from going forward, it has expressed serious concerns, and it can act to protect this fragile population of dolphins by ensuring no further permits are granted for mining in the area.