SPC Geoscience Division

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Newsflash

The Kingdom of Tonga this month became the first country in the world to put in place a law that manages seabed mineral activities within its national marine space and under its sponsorship in international waters.

Tonga’s Seabed Minerals Act 2014 was prepared with the assistance of the Deep Sea Minerals Project a partnership between the European Union (EU) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and 15 Pacific Island countries. The Act received Royal Assent from the King of Tonga on 20 August 2014. This pioneering law, championed by Tonga’s Minister for Lands and Natural Resources and his staff, and led by the Kingdom’s Attorney-General’s Office, with SPC support, positions Tonga at the forefront of good governance for this emerging new industry.

Tonga, like Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Solomon Islands, has already received significant commercial interest in the seabed mineral potential within its national seas. Companies are currently conducting exploratory activities to learn more about Tonga’s ‘seafloor massive sulphide’ deposits. These chimney like structures, formed by hydrothermal activity at the seafloor thousands of metres below sea-level, are being feted as a new source for metals in global demand (such as copper, zinc, gold and silver) – and, if mined, would bring a new source of revenue for Tonga.

The industry is however an untested one: deep sea mining has not yet occurred anywhere in the world; its viability and environmental impact are yet to be determined.