Emerging Deep Seabed Mining in South Pacific Island Nations, IOW TPE 2014.

2014 Sammler, K. Emerging Resource Management Strategies and Deep Seabed Mining in South Pacific Island Nations. Islands of the World XIII Conference, Penghu Archipelago, Taiwan 22–27 Sep.

Extended Abstract:

The deep sea is a place of profound mysteries shrouded by the obscurity of a thousand meters of dark, cold salty seawater. It holds clues to how life began and evolved on Earth within its diverse aquatic creatures, yet less than 5% of the oceans subsurface has been explored. As onshore resource production struggles to meet global demands, the world is turning offshore to satisfy growing food, fuel and mineral appetites. The deep seabed is on the verge of becoming a location for large-scale resource extraction projects. In this paper I will address how political technologies, like Exclusive Eco- nomic Zones (EEZ), enrolled in opening up this new space of extraction are productive of resonances or interferences with established fields of power in the South Pacific. As New Zealand is one of the first island nations making its foray into seabed mining, it will be a focal point of analysis.

This project addresses significant gaps in critical geography scholarship addressing territory, environmental governance and the political economy of nature; topics which have mainly been explored through strictly land-based practices. This study draws from archival documents to historicize and conduct contemporary analyses of the allo- cation of permits, environmental impact assessments, and economic valuations that are developing in response to seabed development in the Pacific. Interviews with government officials and environmental scientists in New Zealand will be used to delineate how marine space is categorized and valued, how environmental concerns about seabed mining are being addresses, and the metrics used to evaluate impacts.

The prospect of seabed mining in New Zealand’s EEZ created the need for the legisla- tive reorganization of institutions managing this space. Several other island nations are also writing legislation to establish conditions for stable mining investment. A few governments have issued moratoriums on the experimental practices. At the same time that these future benefits are being secured or delayed by governments, conser- vation groups, fishermen and other concerned citizens are binding together to protest seabed development because of experimental mining technologies, lack of oversight and economic plunder of this common property. Regional organizations are formulat- ing legislative and regulatory framework to disseminate among their members.


This extension of national space into the ocean is challenging conventional institu- tions of governance, prompting concerns over economic fairness and environmental impacts. Clearly, transformations precipitated by the inception of the EEZ have not been homogenous, but are a function of various articulations with congealed networks of power relations already in existence. This includes relationalities between citi- zen groups, national, regional and international governance institutions, and various flows of capital.

The wayward physical properties of the ocean, within which neither ecosystems nor pollutants hesitate to spill over politically and legally constructed boundaries, combined with experimental mining technology make for a dangerous eco-political assemblage. South Pacific nations, while presumed to have the most to gain from developing their seabed resources, due to the fact that their EEZs are orders of mag- nitude larger that the islands themselves, have great uncertainties on the horizon regarding seabed mining practices.

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Travel grant:

International Small Island Studies Association Student Scholarship, $600.

National Penghu University of Science and Technology, $600.