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South Taranaki Bight seabed iron sand extraction and processing project, New Zealand


Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR) holds a mining permit to undertake iron ore extraction in the South Taranaki Bight. In October 2013 TTR applied for marine consent under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 to undertake iron ore extraction in a 66 km2 area in the South Taranaki Bight. In June 2014 the Decision-Making Committee refused the marine consent application. The decision has been appealed to the High Court.[1] One of the EPA's primary concerns with the last application was the effect sediment plume - caused by uplifting the sand - would have on the seabed environment. The EPA decision stated that "based on the evidence presented, the sediment plume created by mining would cause shading in the water column affecting primary productivity of phytoplankton and reduce light availability at the seabed affecting benthic primary productivity. "Overall, we think this application was premature. More time to have better understood the proposed operation and the receiving environment and engage more constructively with existing interests and other parties may have overcome many of the concerns we have set out in this decision."[2]

The project would have involved the excavation of up to 50 million tonnes (27 million cubic metres) per year of seabed material containing iron sand for processing on an offshore floating vessel. Approximately 10 per cent of the material would have been processed offshore into iron ore for export, with the remaining material returned to the seabed. [3] In the impact report submitted later in August 2016, it says that “There would be a direct bump of $59 million to the country's gross domestic product (GDP), or $159m if indirect and induced effects were taken into account…There will also be royalties of about $6.15m a year, $310m in export earnings and government taxes.”[4]

When the previous marine consent application was declined by the EPA, the DMC identified that one of the key reasons for the application being declined was that it had a lack of confidence in the extent to which existing interests were appropriately taken into account as part of the application. Acknowledging the DMC’s criticism, TTR re-evaluated their consultation strategy and after extensive review developed a consultation plan that provided for open and inclusive consultation with the existing interest parties, tangata whenua and stakeholders that addressed the identified shortcomings and would improve the overall effectiveness of the consultation process.  In March 2015, TTR facilitated a visit for interested stakeholders to De Beers Marine (Pty) Ltd (“DBM”) in Cape Town, South Africa to provide parties with the opportunity to “see and feel” the proposed equipment, witness the tried and tested technology supporting the TTR proposal and meet the scientists and regulatory authorities involved in monitoring DBM’s established offshore diamond mining activities. Invitations for this visit were extended to iwi (especially mana whenua), EPA, TRC, DOC, MNZ, and commercial fishing representatives. The invite was accepted by the EPA, TRC, and representatives of the Iwi Fisheries Forum.

On 25 August 2016, TTR lodged a revised Marine Consent application with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for the proposed South Taranaki Bight (STB) iron sands mining project. TTR said that it would be “sustainable world-leading, marine-based development that can be delivered and operated with minimal environmental impact ".[5]

But the venture has been opposed by KASM, Patea-based iwi Ngati Ruanui, environmental groups Greenpeace and Forest & Bird, and by Talley's Fisheries which also submitted against the mining when a previous application by TTR was declined by the EPA in 2014. [6]Among the concerns is the possible impact on blue whales and Maui's dolphins. In the year 2016, a 6000-signature petition was presented to Parliament by KASM and Ngati Ruanui calling for a moratorium on seabed mining. Much of their concern focused on the sediment plume that would be generated by the mine, as the plume would spread from the mined zone into the coastal marine area – killing low-living organisms and possibly causing fish to avoid the area.

In August 2017, the application to the EPA to mine South Taranaki's iron sands in the North Island of New Zealand was granted on a split decision (that has been appealed) despite acknowledgment there could be "100 percent loss" of marine life on the seafloor. Protesters geared up immediately to fight this landmark decision of August 2017. Indigenous leaders said that the decision felt like a repeat of history, with the iwi's land being confiscated by soldiers in 1869, and now the seabed was also being taken away. "The land confiscation was raping the land, now they are raping the sea that we are here to protect, along with all the other people, for our children, there's going to be nothing left there. “These guys are only there for the money, they're not there to protect the habitat, and they’re not there to protect the seabed. What we are seeing, what I am saying now, is there's going to be no life in that seabed for our children for tomorrow."[7].

The North Island’s west coast in New Zealand is a unique marine ecosystem, with a shoreline of distinctive purple and black sand. The black matter is Titanomagnetite. It features a (so far unrecoverable) titanium component, along with an iron component.[8] As well as being present on the shoreline, sand dunes, and coastal hinterland, there is an even greater amount in the seabed. It was formed by the nearby volcanic cones of Taranaki, Pirongia, and Karioi, which over the millennia, eroded vast quantities of black, iron-rich sand, down the streams and rivers on their flanks. Ocean currents then moved the sand north and southwards away from its source. The result is a series of deposits along 480 km of coastline from Whanganui to the Kaipara Harbour and in nearly 20,000 km2 of the adjacent seabed. Many such deposits around the globe have been studied as potential sources of iron ore, but few are of commercial value. The favourable decision for the project in August 2017 is now under appeal.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:South Taranaki Bight seabed iron sand extraction and processing project, New Zealand
Country:New Zealand
State or province: approx. 66 km2 located between 22 and 36 km off the coastline of South Taranaki
(municipality or city/town)South Taranaki Bight, North Island
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Mineral ore exploration
Mineral processing
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Ilmenite, zircon, rutile, garnet
Titanium ores
Iron ore

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The South Taranaki Bight (STB) iron sands project located 22km to 36km offshore from Patea. The Company also has a granted Prospecting Permit covering potential high grade (>10%HM) heavy mineral sand deposits offshore the West Coast of the South Island containing iron, ilmenite, zircon, rutile, garnet and gold similar to the onshore Barrytown deposit.

The STB project has reported JORC iron sand mineral resources of 1,698Mt @ 11.16% Fe2O3 for the Mine Area and adjacent Kupe Blocks at a 3.5% Davis Tube Recovery (DTR) cutoff and a further 2,137Mt @ 9.66% Fe2O3 for Stage 2 Block mine areas. These resources, in 25 to 60 metres of water, are located within New Zealand’s territorial 12 nautical mile limit (RMA) and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The STB project pre feasibility study (PFS) is based on dredging 50Mt of iron sand each year, separating around 10% titano-magnetite from the sediment offshore, and returning 90% of the sand to the seabed backfilling mined areas.

The sands will be processed offshore aboard a purpose built 345 metre integrated mining vessel (IMV). This vessel is designed to operate through almost all known weather conditions in the STB. The iron sand will be extracted by remote controlled 450t seabed crawlers, excavating up to 8,000t hour, similar to those operated by DeBeers Marine offshore Namibia to recover diamonds. The IMV will have a purpose built metallurgical processing plant on board producing 5Mt titano-magnetite concentrate a year grading around 56.5% Fe2O3.

The concentrate, initially stored on the IMV, will be transferred as slurry to the trans-shipment vessel (TSV), dewatered and loaded into Cape Size export vessels using dry bulk ship-to-ship loading systems and shipped directly to world markets.

The STB project PFS indicates the operation will add to the diversification of the Taranaki economy and generate local, regional and national economic benefits through employment and training, royalties, and taxes. Locally, approximately 300 direct jobs will be created, over 1,600 nationally and $350m spent on operating costs every year.

Project area: 6576
Level of Investment:600,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2014
Company names or state enterprises:Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR) from New Zealand
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) (New Zealand)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:-Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM), which is a group established when the spectre of mining the seabed for minerals first raised its head in Aotearoa. (

-Patea-based iwi Ngati Ruanui


-Forest & Bird

-Talley's Fisheries

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
High School students
translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Noise pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Mine tailing spills, Oil spills, Other Environmental impacts, Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsSediment plume; bioinvasions (non-indigenous organisms could be introduced to New Zealand).
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsThe sediment plume would reduce light penetration in the water column and therefore reduce primary production; potential effects on commercial, recreational and customary fishing. Lack of respect for indigenous rights.


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Permission granted by EPA but appealed (in August 2017)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:There is strong opposition to the project but the EPA approved it in August 2017. This decision has been appealed.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] South Taranaki Bight Offshore Iron Sand Extraction and Processing Project Impact Assessment

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Case Study - South Taranaki Bight iron sand extraction

[5] Trans-Tasman Resources lodges EPA marine consent application to extract iron sands off South Taranaki coast

[2] Trans Tasman Resources reapply to mine iron ore in South Taranaki

[7] Iwi will appeal ironsand mining off Taranaki coast. CATHERINE GROENESTEIN. August 10 2017


[6] Controversial plan to mine seabed for iron ore approved in split decision

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[8] The West Coast Ironsands. Seabed mining.

Business Day. Call for moratorium on all seabed mining amid 'secretive' application video. JEREMY WILKINSON AND STACEY KIRK

September 19 2016

Other documents

Opunake High School students gathered at Middleton bay in Opunake today to join in the Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) movement and protest against seabed mining in 2014.

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB, JMA
Last update09/12/2017









Opunake High School students gathered at Middleton bay in Opunake today to join in the Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) movement and protest against seabed mining in 2014.