A mining exploration permit has been quietly granted inside a marine sanctuary off the Taranaki coast to protect the endangered Māui’s dolphins.
The decision, which was approved in May, has shocked conservation groups who were unaware of it.
But the Department of Conservation (DOC) had been aware of Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd’s application since March. It has voiced “significant concerns” about the safety of the dolphins if the exploration proved successful and mining was to go ahead.
In March DOC warned Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage that it was uncertain whether the public was aware of the application and there would be a “high level of interest” if people were told of the development.
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The exploration permit was later granted without seeking resource consent from the Taranaki Regional Council because its coastal plan rules exploration is a permitted activity.
Ironsands also has a permit to explore the seabed of Waihi Beach, in the Bay of Plenty, but this will require recourse consent from the regional council because its coastal plan requires it.
A Taranaki iwi already fighting mining plans off the coast of Pātea in South Taranaki said the approval raised alarm bells.
In an emailed statement, Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust kaiarataki Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said granting the five year exploration permit in the sanctuary, which runs from Oakura to Maunganui Bluff in Northland, set a dangerous precedent.
“Taranaki has been instructed by this coalition government to transition our economy away from fossil-fuelled industry. To do that we must have certainty that our unique appeal, including natural resources, will be protected,” she said.
In April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the end of offshore oil and gas exploration, about one month before Ironsands Offshore Mining’s exploration permit was granted.
The permit covers an area almost four times the size of that granted by the Environmental Protection Authority to Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) for mining of the coast Pātea.
The EPA’s decision was appealed by 11 parties and an appeal hearing was held in the High Court at Wellington in April. Justice Peter Churchman has yet to reveal his decision.
PHOTO CREDIT: stuff.co.nz