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Avarua, Cook Islands (UPI) Aug 6, 2013
Deep sea mining has the potential to transform the economy of the Cook Islands, an official of the South Pacific country says.
A report in the British newspaper The Guardian Monday cites a geological survey by Imperial College marine geochemist David Cronan estimating the 772,204-square-mile exclusive economic zone of the Cook Islands contains 10 billion tons of manganese nodules rich in manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt and rare earth minerals typically used in electronics.
With a population of 14,000 and an annual per-capita income estimated by the United Nations at just $12,200, mining the minerals "has the potential to basically transform our economy hugely, significantly with just the value of the resources sitting on the sea floor," Mark Brown, the Cook Islands' finance minister, told The Guardian.
"We still have a jump to make the move from developing nation status to a developed nation status," Brown said of the archipelago of 15 small islands between New Zealand and Hawaii.
"The seabed mining industry provides that potential for us."
While mining is not likely to begin for five years, Brown said talks are under way with major mining companies and other nations regarding licensing deals, with the first tenders due to be granted before June 2014.
The Cook Islands would expect "stakes in (mining) companies for free" in return for their "rights to exploit our resources," he said.
"We are here to meet the new players," Brown said last week at the Deep Sea Mining Summit in London.
But environmentalists are concerned about the environmental risks of extracting the minerals.
Richard Page, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace International, in a blog post at the start of the London summit, noted deep sea vents, aside from their mineral content, are also home to "unique communities of creatures" whose genetic properties could have medicinal applications.
"If seabed mining is allowed to go ahead without a comprehensive system of environmental protection in place we may be destroying species forever before they have even been scientifically described," Page wrote.
The Cook Islands' seabed minerals commissioner, however, argues environmental precautions have been taken to preserve its pristine beaches.
"The good, clean, green beaches are not something we want to harm just for the sake of mineral wealth," Commissioner Paul Lynch told The Guardian, noting his country has "the only legislation in the world dedicated to deep water minerals."
The legislation is aimed at protecting the environment and would turn half of the Cook Islands' waters into a marine park, Lynch said.
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