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Overfishing and seabed mining, Cook Islands, New Zealand

Mining of manganese nodules promises economic gains. Traditional leaders oppose it based on “Ra'ui” philosophy. The director of the marine protected area Marae Moana, was dismissed.


The Cook Islands is a tiny island country in the South Pacific with a total land area of just 93 square miles that form 15 islands. The ocean territory of the islands is far larger and is home to coral reefs and many marine species. Until recently, the rich biodiverse area was at risk of overfishing [1] [3]. Only in 2015, catch value only for tuna reached US$357 million [2].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Overfishing and seabed mining, Cook Islands, New Zealand
Country:New Zealand
State or province:Central-Southern Pacific Ocean
Location of conflict:Rarotonga
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Fish
Sand, gravel
Cobalt, Nickel, Magnesium
Titanium ores
Rare metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Cook Islands Sea Beds Authority through the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) preformed a research for more that 20 years; and found that there is a type of Seabed Mineral (SBM) called Polymetallic Manganese Nodules in great abundance in the marine area of the Cook Islands.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:17,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA Cook Islands) from New Zealand - Public Authority exploring the Ocean for minerals
Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) from New Zealand
Relevant government actors:Seabed Minerals Authority
Cook Island Prime Ministar
New Zealand Crown
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Te Ipukarea Society
- Marae Moana Coordination Office (Goldman Environmental Prize 2019)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Mine tailing spills, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:No alternative has been proposed after the Morea Moana based on the the Ra'ui traditional environmental practice. One of the leaders and Goldman prize winner (2019) has been dismissed from from a position as director of the Cook Islands’ world-renowned Marae Moana marine protected area, because it challenged the seabed mining and requested moratoria and data collection for at least 10 year period.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the overfishing activities have been opposed and the marine area has been protected under the Morea Moana act, the Cook Islands government is proceeding with mining exploration, saying it wants to be at “the frontier of the new gold rush” and could be ready to start seabed mining within five years. It says mining the seafloor for metallic nodules could provide financial security for the islands and help them mitigate climate change [6]. It is the opposite of the Ra'ui - a traditional environmental practice, argued by the traditional Maōri leaders of the Cook Islands. Nowhere in the world have any deep-sea minerals been commercially extracted so far. But seems it might happen in the case of Cook Islands.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Mongabay (September, 2019) Will a massive marine protected area safeguard Cook Islands’ ocean?
[click to view]

[click to view]

[2] Marae Moana official website (2019): What Is Marae Moana?
[click to view]


[3] A conservationist helped protect the Cook Islands from overfishing, and won a Goldman Environmental Prize
[click to view]

[4] Mongabay (2019) Cook Islands MPA leader fired after supporting seabed mining freeze
[click to view]

[7] Seabed Minerals Authority Official website (2019): Exploring the deep of minerals
[click to view]

[6] The Guardian (2019) Cook Islands: manager of world's biggest marine park says she lost job for backing sea mining moratorium
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Ksenija Hanacek ICTA-UAB
Last update01/12/2019
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