Chatham Rock Phosphate's proposal to mine the Chatham Rise on New Zealand's continental shelf could affect marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, University of Otago assistant professor Liz Slooten told the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
The EPA's on-going hearing to assess the impact of the mining project has entered into its fifth week, where Slooten has been providing evidence from environmentalists Greenpeace, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC).
The organisations are protesting against an application filed with the EPA by Chatham Rock on 25 September, to mine around $4bn worth of phosphates in 450m-deep waters.
According to Slooten, the plume of sediment from the mining and pollution from uranium could make marine mammals prone to health conditions such as permanent or temporary hearing impairment and behavioural response, and compromise their ability to communicate and orientate.
Slooten also accused Chatham of failing to carry out acoustic or visual surveys to confirm which species of whales reside in the area, and of not producing any data on the noise that would be generated by mining activities.
Slooten told EPA that: "There are a number of potentially serious impacts on marine mammals.
"More rigorous environmental impact assessment would be needed to assess the severity of the impacts of this development."
"From a scientific point of view, three years of baseline monitoring is the minimum required to collect baseline data on distribution and abundance of marine mammals, and this is also the minimum to provide a realistic chance of detecting effects on other species."
Image: University of Otago studies find that bottlenose dolphins are the many marine mammals present at Chatham Rise in New Zealand. Photo: courtesy of NASAs.