The Republic of Kiribati (through State owned enterprise Marawa Research and Exploration Ltd. ("Marawa")) has made an application to the International Seabed Authority ("ISA") to explore for seafloor manganese nodules in international waters and carry out related scientific research and environmental studies. The application covers approximately 75,000 square kilometres of seafloor in the north-east Pacific Ocean (Clarion-Clipperton Zone) in water depths up to 5,000 meters.
This project demonstrates the Government's commitment to creating initiatives to meet the social and economic development needs of the citizens of Kiribati, as well as secure Kiribati's long-term sustainability.
Importantly, Marawa's activities will be carried out in the international seabed area meaning there will be no depletion of Kiribati's natural resources, zero impact on Kiribati's environment and fish stocks, and no cause for land use conflicts.
Whilst many countries rely upon mining to underpin their national economies, Kiribati is geologically disadvantaged and does not possess any significant economic mineral deposits on land. As Kiribati does not participate in the global metal economy it is at a significant disadvantage to most other countries.
Providing a means for countries without terrestrial mineral resources to participate in the benefits of mineral development, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ("UNCLOS") encourages countries to obtain rights to explore for minerals in the international seabed area, as it is recognized that such mineral development is important for mankind as a whole. However, to date only developed countries have participated in such activities.
Marawa's proposed scientific research and exploration program will involve seafloor mapping, polymetallic nodule sampling as well as environmental baseline studies and environmental impact assessments in international waters. To undertake the at-sea program Marawa will adopt world's best environmental practice.
The exploration will be carried out under the ISA's rules and regulations as well as UNCLOS, which has been ratified by over 160 States. The ISA has adopted stringent environmental rules to regulate deep sea mineral exploration, and in the Clarion Clipperton Zone ("CCZ") alone the ISA is proposing a marine preservation area totaling approximately 1.4 million square kilometers (around 1% of the total earth land mass). The marine preservation area envisaged by the ISA is similar to Kiribati's own Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which is the world's second largest Marine Protected Area encompassing over 400,000 square kilometers.
Manganese nodule exploration is an established and well-understood practice. The manganese nodule deposits in the North East Pacific Ocean have been subject to a large number of commercial, scientific and environmental research cruises over the past 40 years, which have broadly defined the geology and mineralisation of the area. Successful at-sea trial mining was also carried out in the 1970s in the CCZ by multiple entities to demonstrate the mining concept, and an extensive Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") was produced after monitoring this trial mining.
Deepsea manganese nodule extraction is widely considered as an environmentally and socially advantageous means of obtaining the metals required to build vital infrastructure and meet the growing metal demand from developing States looking to increase their standards of living.
Kiribati's exploration application will be heard in July, 2012 by the ISA's Legal and Technical Commission. The ISA exploration contract would grant Marawa the right to explore and conduct scientific studies but will not grant any rights to mine.
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