New Zealand is set to decide the fate of Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) proposed $70m underwater iron-ore mining project, which could become the world's first commercial metals mine on the ocean floor.
TTR is proposing to mine a 65.76km² area within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between 22km and 35km off the coast of Patea, which is within the firm's current prospecting licence 50753.
If approved, TTR plans to start iron ore dredging at the South Taranaki Bight, off the North Island's west coast in 2016.
The iron-rich sands at the site contain titano-magnetite, which will be extracted for export to Asian steel mills.
TTR has already received the mining licence and is now awaiting approval from the country's environmental protection agency (EPA).
The project, however, is being opposed by the environmental group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, citing scientific clarity over environmental impacts of sea-bed mining.
TTR CEO Tim Crossley was quoted by Reuters as saying that the iron sands are mostly inhabited by sandworms, which will re-establish themselves within a few years of the disturbance.
"Our view, supported by our science experts, is that between five and ten years you will get almost full recovery of the area that's been mined...because the organisms and environment are already quite adapted and recover quickly," Crossley said.
If approved, the project will encourage other miners exploring for copper, cobalt, manganese and other metals, in the ocean floor.
Nautilus Minerals is also working on a deep-sea project off Papua New Guinea. Nautilus CEO Michael Johnston said that a lot of people are watching the Trans Tasman Resources outcome.
Countries like Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, which all have exploration licenses, are looking for underwater mining in the Pacific Ocean.