An Overview Of Our Solution
In 2020, the Cook Islands (CI) Government launched a tender application process for deep-sea mining (DSM) exploratory licenses within our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Te Ipukarea Society is an environmental NGO which has operated in the Cook Islands since 1996. We are concerned about the impacts that DSM would have on our ocean ecosystems, particularly those impacts caused by mineral rich sediment plumes generated by large nodule extractor vehicles.
We therefore support the call for a global, minimum-10yr moratorium on DSM, and are campaigning in the Cook Islands for local support of this call.
- Population Impacted 12,000
- Continent: Oceania
Commercial interest in nodules is driven by global desire for the metals in them, e.g. cobalt. Citing a need to diversify our tourism-dependent economy, the CI Government launched a deep-sea mining exploration tender process, in the hopes of beginning exploitation in 5yrs.
While deep-sea biological research in the Cook Islands has been limited, a SOPAC Technical Report (2003) states that sediment samples in nodule fields contained up to 10 different faunal groups and 85 individual animals per square metre. Most were found in the top 1cm layer of seabed, or attached to nodules. Some species were found at only 1 site, which increases vulnerability to extinction caused by nodule removal or by smothering with metal rich sediment and oxygen-depleted pore water.
Locally, DSM has become a political issue, making raising awareness difficult. Many people are not informed enough to speak out, and others are wary of political consequences.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
We believe that public and government support for a minimum-10yr moratorium on deep-sea mining would reduce water pollution by delaying, and possibly eventually completely prohibiting commercial deep-sea mining, an industry which will result in significant water pollution. In the case of DSM in the Cook Islands, we believe a moratorium is the most appropriate application of the Precautionary Principle, and would also:
- align with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030;
- allow for more scientific research to be carried out - particularly by non-mining institutions who don't have a vested interest in mining - resulting in reduced uncertainty;
- allow time to complete the Marine Spatial Plan for Marae Moana, our marine park;
- allow time to further investigate the potential for a resource-efficient circular economy without the need to mine for new metals;
- not interfere with the Cook Islands efforts to contribute to global biodiversity targets;
Describe your behavioral intervention.
We have produced a range of "carousel" type social media posts, which breaks down peer-reviewed scientific information into bite sized pieces for the general public. These have focused on the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining, such as from the plumes, and sources are always provided so that people know the information is accurate. We also have a weekly spot in the newspaper which we often use for DSM awareness raising. We are in the process of organising a Facebook Live with Dr. Diva Amon, a deep-sea scientist, who can also answer questions from the Cook Islands public about the environmental impacts of DSM.
TIS has written a position statement providing DSM background, why we support a moratorium, and what it will achieve. This has been shared on social media, the newspaper, Government, and various Civil Society Organisations.
With support from SOAlliance, TIS created a documentary on local perspectives on DSM, focusing on how little is known, and how more time is needed and wanted by our people. This has been screened both nationally and internationally, followed by panel discussions with various stakeholders. In terms of Social Influences, the film shares the voices of community members from Tonga and Papua New Guinea, who also support a moratorium, as well as a statement from the Pacific Conference of Churches. It creates a conversation around the CI's shared faith, where people speak about their God-given responsibility to protect our home.
Behavioral Levers Utilized
As needed, please explain how you utilized the lever(s) in more detail.
Choice Architecture We simplified complex science into simple social media posts. We used government commitments to try limit future decisions, such as referring to the Marae Moana Act to slow down DSM developments because of incomplete Marine Spatial Planning.
Information We are raising awareness of the impacts of DSM on our environment and society, as well as on the moratorium by using media - social, TV, print, documentary, - and one-on-one meetings.
Emotional Appeal Our documentary displayed: pride in our island, environment, and peoples faith; hope for more research and a pristine home to gift our great-grandchildren; fear of impacts on our environment and livelihoods, how money will be managed, being used by foreign companies; prospect of being shamed by the international perspective of allowing an extractive industry to operate in our Marae Moana. The message was personalized by amplifying voices of Cook Islanders instead of stats.
Describe your implementation
To address the lack of public awareness on the impacts of deep-sea mining, we have focused our communication materials on providing simple, accurate information on: environmental, social, & economic impacts; how a moratorium will enable reduction of scientific uncertainty; how a moratorium will enable innovation in technology, and; how a moratorium will allow time for alternative sources of metal or methods of recycling to be found. We have also held a panel discussion, including representatives from the Marae Moana Coordination office and a DSM industry representative. We have more interactive events planned with independent scientists to come. More understanding of impacts and the proposed moratorium will mean people will be able to ask more informed questions of the Seabed Minerals Authority (SBMA).
To address the lack of opportunity to speak out, we created a documentary which encouraged the public to speak freely, regardless of their political stance and regardless of which "side" they are on. This is the first time the opinions of our people have been centred and amplified on this issue, as opposed to the usual top-down approach from Government. This has had a large impact locally and is acting like a "domino" in that more people are feeling empowered to ask questions. This was evidenced at the panel discussion following the local premiere. The documentary is a big success factor because it is being shared both locally and internationally, and demonstrates real people with real emotions attached to our home islands.
Covid-19 has seen a complete collapse of our tourism industry, which has added fuel to the governments argument that DSM is necessary to diversify our economy. This messaging has been difficult to combat but we continue to raise awareness, as well as share information on the potential economic risks that come with ecological risks like pollution accidents.
Describe the leadership for your solution. Who is leading the implementation?
We believe leadership is non-hierarchical - everyone has a leadership role to play in this space. With donor funding, a local consultant was hired to formalise a DSM awareness campaign, but involvement of all staff and partners has been instrumental in its success so far. TIS staff consists of 4 females (two under 30yrs) and 1 male. We work in partnership with: a wider DSM Pacific Strategy group to utilise expertise from around the world; local NGO Korero O Te Orau, who specialise in Indigenous Knowledge, and; a range of civil society organisations and individual community members, including traditional chiefs. Many perspectives were featured in our documentary, which have helped us to tailor our events and comms material moving forward. The panel discussion was open to the public, and included youth to speak on engagement.
We have an annual internship programme to build conservation and leadership capacity in youth, our current intern is 16.
Share some of the key partners or stakeholders engaged in your solution development and implementation.
We have had meetings with civil society organisations, such as the Cook Islands Voyaging Society. We are about to partner in a project with them, driven by fellow NGO Korero O Te Orau, to spread messages of Ocean Health to our outer islands, using the traditional Okeanos-funded Vaka (sailing canoe).
We have spoken with a number of different religious denominations on the island to gauge current views on a DSM industry. Many churches also have political connections so this has not been as productive as we hoped, but we have had some success with representatives of churches being featured on our documentary, and the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) supporting the Pacific Conference of Churches stance on a moratorium for deep-sea mining.
We are part of a DSM Pacific Strategy grouop, which includes peers from Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Aotearoa, as well as legal, social science, finance, and ocean science experts from around the world. We meet online every month to share progress, lessons, advice, and support on deep-sea mining developments. They have also supported our work financially. We have recently become members of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
Our documentary included representatives from the SBMA, and our panel discussion featured the CI Tourism Corporation, DSM joint venture company CIICGSR, and Marae Moana Coordination office. We have met with SBMA several times, to advocate for a moratorium.
Who adopted the desired behavior(s) and to what degree? Include an explanation of how you measured a change in behavior.
CICC has written to the Pacific Conference of Churches to support the call for a minimum-10yr moratorium, and have reiterated to TIS that they cannot support DSM in the Cook Islands because the majority of their parishioners are not supportive of the industry.
Other Cook Islanders have supported the call for more time before exploitation begins. We have been measuring impact using social media metrics - number of views and engagements on our carousels, documentary, articles etc. Within a week, the documentary had over 1,500 views on our YouTube channel. We have plans to formalise a system to endorse our position statement which calls for a moratorium, but have been focusing on the awareness-building aspect first. This may include a petition at a later stage.
The documentary also serves as a good baseline for people's opinions. We hope to carry out more interviews as our advocacy & awareness work continues.
How did you impact water pollution? Please be specific and include measurement methodology where relevant.
Neither exploration nor exploitation has been allowed to occur in our EEZ yet. While there are likely many factors which have contributed to this, TIS has also played a large part in slowing the process down.
Earlier this year, amendments were made to the Seabed Minerals Act 2019, and these were to go to Parliament without public consultation. We intervened by requesting a public consultation be held with the Cook Islands public. We've also made submissions on past and current draft regulations, e.g. demanding that our legislation meets international standards.
If the public and government support a moratorium, as is our project purpose, we can delay ocean pollution caused by mining for long enough that more research can be carried out. Based on current science, we expect that more time will develop knowledge about alternatives to DSM & about true environmental impacts of DSM to the point of proving the industry isn't possible without significant adverse impact.
How has your solution impacted equity challenges (including race, gender, ethnicity, social class/income, or others)?
We are trying to challenge the top-down approach taken in the DSM industry by our government, where they only share the potential economic benefits of the industry to get the support of the people. We have focused our communications to reach all demographics by using many forms of media - social, print, TV, radio - locally and internationally.
Our documentary purposefully centers the views of community members from a range of demographics - from 16 to 90yrs old, high-school student to church Pastor to traditional chief, males and females. This is the first time the Cook Islands people have been asked to share their opinion on the issue, regardless of whether they oppose the industry or support it, and we aim to develop this into a full bottom-up approach, where an informed and aware community feel empowered to share their views with government, regardless of politics.
What were some social and/or community co-benefits?
Co-benefits have been that people are feeling genuinely consulted with our approach, as opposed to government's approach to consultations, which can often be a box ticking exercise. People are feeling more empowered to exercise their basic human right to speak out, because of our example and approach to awareness raising.
People also now have access to scientific information on DSM without having to pay for journal subscriptions.
What were some environmental co-benefits?
In order to improve our social media engagement for the DSM campaign, we ran a giveaway competition with the prize being reusable, insulated water bottles. We now have more followers, and were able to award 3 prizes of bottles, as well as sell some to help reduce single-use plastic consumption on the island.
The campaign has raised the public profile of TIS and other environmental NGOs. As such, people are more aware of other local environmental issues.
What were some sustainable development co-benefits?
Through this campaign, we have raised public awareness about the possibility of moving towards a circular economy. This is not something that has been talked about often in the Cook Islands, and we hope to develop this work further.
Public awareness has also been raised about our other sustainable development work, such as our campaign for a more ecologically conscious tourism industry (the Mana Tiaki Programme), and our school environmental programmes.
Sustainability: Describe the economic sustainability of your solution.
Our solution requires grant funding for advocacy work and educational materials. Once our Government also supports the solution, the moratorium will be free but will then need collaborative effort to encourage independent biological research within our EEZ.
Corporate membership, donations, and reusable water bottle sales all contribute to unrestricted funding and the long-term financial sustainability of TIS. This allows our DSM-related work to continue at some level.
Return on investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?
The work so far has cost roughly USD10,000 in operational costs, plus an equal in-kind contribution from both local stakeholders and the wider international deep sea conservation network. We believe the results and outputs show excellent value for money - we have achieved a great deal with a small amount, and have significantly improved public awareness and engagement on the issue.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
Because of our DSM Pacific Strategy network, we are aware that in Papua New Guinea, the Alliance of Solwara Warriors has been campaigning against DSM for more than 10yrs. Their government now supports a DSM moratorium, and as such we have learned a lot from their campaign. Our counterparts in Tonga are also having great success at raising local awareness about DSM. We all share lessons learned with each other, and will do so at a wider scale as we continue.
We are aiming for a global moratorium, and so this work should ultimately be replicated globally. In our view, the next logical countries to begin are Nauru and Kiribati, as they are also sponsor states of DSM exploration contracts in international waters. Key stakeholders in each would be civil society, churches, and government - national and local. An approximate budget would be USD30-40k per year per country.