Last week the Government of Vanuatu hosted a regional workshop in collaboration with SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project in Port Vila. Participants at the ‘Social Impacts of Deep Sea Mineral Activities and Stakeholder Participation’ workshop included representatives from civil society organizations, religious groups, deep sea mining companies and government officials from 14 Pacific Island countries.

In his opening address Vanuatu’s Minister for Land and Natural Resources, the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, said there needed to be wide consultation before any further activities to do with seabed mineral exploration can occur in Vanuatu. Mr. Akuila Tawake, Manager of the SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea MineralsProject,said the Minister’s comments were highly valued at a workshop that was specifically designed to support greater stakeholder consultation on the issues related to the governance of deep sea minerals resources in Pacific Island countries.

“The workshop included discussions on the potential social impacts of deep sea mining, and the importance of public debate and engagement as Governments develop policy and take decisions about whether or not to engage with this emerging industry. The SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is trying to assist the Pacific Island countries to learn from the mistakes that have been made in other industries like fisheries and on land mining. Over the last two years we have been holding Regional and National Deep Sea Minerals Stakeholder Consultation Workshops where we invite all levels of stakeholders including community leaders and NGOs,” he says.

The Port Vila workshop included presentations by international experts including Professor Colin Filer, who specialises in the social impacts of mining, and Tim Offor, an expert on stakeholder participation processes. The workshop ended with a practical role play on how to increase community and wide stakeholder participation in State decision making processes for development projects. However, Mr Tawake says one of the main benefits of the workshop was the fact that it enabled the cross-section of participants to interact and share their concerns with each other.

The range of issues discussed at the workshop in Port Vila ranged from ‘free, prior and informed consent’, to potential opportunities and socio-economic challenges for Pacific Island nationals if this new sector grows in the region. Other areas of discussion also focused on the need to ensure that any economic benefits are used to support sustainable development and support community livelihoods in the long-term.

Pelenatita Kara from the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, says she will endeavour to use knowledge from the training to create a platform for public consultation and dialogue where civil society organisations, the wider community, the private Sector and government can continue to discuss deep sea minerals issues.
“I hope everyone else will do this as well so we can make use of the excellent strategies and framework proposed during this week's training. We are looking at being as inclusive as we can to ensure we maximize the chances for people to get their queries clarified and have both government and companies table their cases,” she says.
Margaret Aulda, Environment Officer for Papua New Guinea’s Mineral Resources Authority says the main objective of the workshop was to bring the different stakeholders together into one room to talk about the potential social impacts of deep sea mining activities.

“I think that deep sea mining risks should be thoroughly identified and mitigation and management measure should be developed to addresses these risks. Concerned parties should always be updated through constant consultation and awareness. There has to be transparent and effective consultation between all stakeholders and this process can be achievable if countries have legislation and policies in place that can give effects and legality to the whole process. At the end of the day the onus is with the government of the day to decide in the best interest of its people,” she says.
Teina MacKenzie, from the Te Ipukarea Society in the Cook Islands says the regional workshop in Port Vila provided a great opportunity for countries to understand the many factors that influence sound decisions and the need to encourage broad participation.

“Discussing the issues regarding economic development, and to what extent they may or may not supersede the need to proceed with caution when there are many social factors that will be affected, is a great start,” she says.
The Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is the first major initiative designed to regulate this new activity in a coordinated way within the Pacific Region. The Project is funded by the European Union and managed by SOPAC, the Applied Geoscience & Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, on behalf of 15 Pacific Island Countries: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Mr. Tawake says the project is to provide countries with the relevant information and advice they need to make informed decisions about deep sea mining within their national jurisdictions.

“I think it’s fair to say that Pacific Island countries still need to do more work to help the wider public to understand the potential benefits and impacts of any deep sea mining activities that may occur within the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones of these countries,” he says.

“The SPC-EU DSM Project is advocating the application of the precautionary approach in all deep sea mineral activities. Additionally, the DSM Project has been sharing as much deep sea minerals information as it possibly can through various means including national and regional workshops, training workshops and awareness programmes to ensure that countries have all the relevant information to make informed decisions.

“We believe that through these stakeholder participation and knowledge enhancing initiatives the various stakeholders from government, the private sector, civil society, local communities, and different national, regional and international organisations will be in a much better position to discuss and address their different concerns,” he says.

By Steve Menzies