Australia’s Northern Territory set to ban seabed mining following nine-year moratorium

Underwater deposits of manganese had been a target of interest for mining companies (Supplied: Keep Top End Coasts Healthy)

The Northern Territory Government has announced plans to permanently ban seabed mining in Top End coastal waters, reports.

Seabed mining involves targeting mineral deposits on or under the seabed — often using hydraulic or mechanical dredges — and is currently only allowed in Western Australia and Queensland for sand mining.

A Northern Territory moratorium on the controversial practice, which has been in place since 2012 and was renewed in 2015 and 2018, was due to expire on March 5, 2021.

Environment Minister Eva Lawler said the decision to ban seabed mining was made after considering a report from the Northern Territory Environment Protection Agency on the practice and community feedback.

“The information that we have around the seabed and our marine environments isn’t extensive.

“So there would have to be a lot of environmental work that would have needed to be done, either by the [mining] proponent or by Government.”

She said the state already had some well-established industries, including the commercial fishing industry and aquaculture which relied on the pristine coastal environment.

Up to 14 applications to explore for minerals or sands in Northern Territory waters had been lodged with the Northern Territory Government.

Deposits of manganese off the coast of Groote Eylandt and in the Limmen Bight were the main areas of interest for mining companies.

NT Minerals Council supports ban

The head of the Minerals Council of Australia’s Northern Territory division Drew Wagner said he supported the Government’s decision to ban seabed mining.

“It’s a fairly long bow to draw to say that we can do it well, we can do it safely, and that we can still, as part of our community, look at ourselves in the mirror and do this properly,” Mr Wagner said.

“So I don’t think anybody, when it’s all said and done, is going to be too surprised by the Minister’s announcement today.”

But Mr Wagner said the Government’s use of a moratorium since 2012 had created uncertainty in the industry.

“It’s good to see we are seeing clear, distinct and discreet signals, rather than … the blunt instrument that is a moratorium.”

Dugong swims in Moreton Bay
Environmental groups say seabed mining could disturb habitats for wildlife.(Reuters)

Moratorium extended for six months

The ban on seabed mining is not immediate, with the Northern Territory Government having to extend the moratorium by six months before a ban is enacted.

Ms Lawler said before a ban could be put in place, the Northern Territory Environment Act required consultation with stakeholders.

The Government would defend any challenge to its proposed ban in the next six months, Ms Lawler said.

“I have said I want this to be a priority of Government to get moving on this,” she said.

Adele Pedder from environmental group Keep Top End Coasts Healthy welcomed the ban and said any challenge to it being put in place would be strongly opposed by many in the community.

“Across the Territory community — scientists, the commercial fishing industry, recreational fishing and tourism — everyone has expressed concern with seabed mining,” she said.

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