EXPLORING for deep sea minerals and possible exploitation in future presents an emerging new economic opportunity for Pacific Island countries. But this must be balanced against protection of the ocean environment and preservation of rare and fragile ecosystems and ocean habitats.
In a statement, Dr Russell Howorth of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), emphasised this point in his opening address at the Regional Training Workshop on Geological, Biological and Environmental Aspects of Deep Sea Minerals, saying "the precautionary approach must prevail".
Dr Howorth is director of SPC's Applied Geoscience and Technology (SOPAC) Division.
The workshop, held recently in Nadi, was organised by the EU-funded, SPC Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) Project and is part of the technical assistance provided to the 15 Pacific-ACP (African Caribbean and Pacific) states.
The 15 states are the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
He said DSM Project team members had already completed 13 national stakeholder consultation workshops across the region, with plans to visit the remaining two countries, PNG and Timor Leste, in September.
The DSM Project will launch a Regional Legislative and Regulatory Framework for Deep Sea Mineral Exploration and Exploitation at this month's meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in Rarotonga.
The aim is to provide technical officers from regional governments and other agencies with a better understanding of deep sea environments, and to assist in their efforts "to effectively tackle deep sea mineral issues while at the same time ensuring globally acceptable standards are met", said Dr Howorth.
As well as the use of SPC's in-house capacity to conduct the workshop, a number of experts were called on to assist, including three world-renowned specialists; Dr Jim Hein from the US Geological Survey, Professor Chuck Fisher from Penn State University and Dr Malcolm Clark from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Dr Howorth welcomed the attendance of other partners including members of civil society, regional and international organisations and the private sector, saying he hoped they would also benefit from an inclusive, participatory approach.
"All of us have an important role to play in communicating to communities about deep sea minerals exploration and possible exploitation in the future, and in bringing the questions and concerns of Pacific people to constructive dialogue with decision-makers," he said.