Five kilometres deep on the Cook Islands seafloor, potato-shaped rocks pave the bottom loaded with expensive minerals like cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel.
Written by Caleb Fotheringham, Cook Islands News
They're called polymetallic nodules and three weeks ago the Cook Islands Prime Minister, Mark Brown referred to them as "golden apples".
Brown made the comment during an official signing ceremony where three companies were awarded a seabed minerals exploration licence.
The licence allows the companies to see if mining is a viable option which includes reviewing the environmental risks associated with the task.
Goldman Environmental Prize winner and marine conservationist, Jacqueline Evans says seabed mining has a direct impact on the biodiversity that lives on and around the nodules. The disposal of sediment from the ship will also impact marine life, she says.
Another concern of Evans and the technical director at Te Ipukarea Society, Kelvin Passfield, is the companies could be reluctant to leave if they're granted a mining licence.
Passfield says, "our concern is they're not expecting to spend that money and say, 'oh it looks like the environmental impacts are not going to be good, so we're going to pack our bags and leave'."
"We need to be sure that does happen and if the impacts are going to be too great that they will pack their bags and leave, and the Cook Islands is not going to be put under any pressure to award them a licence.
"These companies, they're in the business of making money, they're in the business of pouring millions of dollars of investors' money into the seafloor.
"Their expectation is they're going to get an exploitation (mining) licence."
The Cook Islands have rules in place in the exploration legislation that protect the companies.
Evans says, "the legislation doesn't allow us to deny a mining licence for whatever reason - there are pre-stated reasons for denying a licence. This favours the mining companies more than it favours ourselves."
The concerns of being sued are exacerbated by ongoing litigation between Odyssey Marine Exploration, which is a joint owner of CIC - one of the Cook Islands companies with an exploration licence - and the Mexican Government.
Odyssey is seeking more than $US2.3 billion from Mexico after being denied a mining licence by the Mexican government.
Dr Catherine Coumans, the Asia-Pacific programme coordinator for Canadian non-profit organisation MiningWatch Canada, has experience supporting governments fighting costly, years-long legal battles against mining corporations.
Coumans says the Mexican government denied the licence on the grounds that the proposed mining would endanger turtles, whales and fishing grounds. It was also based on a lack of public consultation.
Full article available here.