There’s a Monty Python skit where a cricketer recounts repeatedly bowling deliveries that are returned at great speed and smack him repeatedly in the forehead.
After the fifth or sixth time, he says: “Of course, I was getting used to it by then.”
It feels an apt analogy for anyone seeking to do anything experimental and large-scale in the ocean around New Zealand.
Trans Tasman Resources, a would-be seabed ironsands mining company, has spent much of the past decade getting nowhere in its bid to be allowed to suck titano-magnetite sands from the seafloor off the coast near Patea.
Chatham Rock Phosphate, which seeks to mine phosphate mined from the seafloor on the Chatham Rise to replace fertiliser controversially imported from the disputed African territory of the Western Sahara, has been equally unsuccessful.
In both cases, perhaps the greatest barrier to permission – apart from determined environmental activists and fishing industry lobbyists – has been the sheer lack of information about the ocean environment in which they seek to operate.
No matter that the fishing industry can destroy marine habitat indiscriminately with widespread bottom-trawling. That’s been permitted for years and, because it’s not new, is allowed to continue.
But when it comes to large-scale, new industrial activity in lightly studied parts of the marine environment, the Environmental Protection Authority has shown a consistent preference for a “precautionary” rather than “adaptive” approach.
The promoters of both undersea mining operations spent serious money on scientific research in environments where very little study had ever previously occurred.
They expected this addition to public knowledge would ease their path to an adaptive management approach to their plans. In other words, they’d be allowed to try…