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Environmental Security News This Week

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Mineral Resources of the Seafloor: Deep Sea Mining in Marae Moana

Positioned off the coast of the Cook Islands, Marae Moana is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the world. A relatively new MPA, Marae Moana has had a contentious history. It is critical for ensuring marine biodiversity in the area, but it is also a highly desirable location for deep sea mining (DSM).

While DSM has been contemplated since the 1950s, recent technological advances and decreasing land mineral supplies have spurred a resurgence in DSM as a way to ensure economic security. Although the Cook Islands could gain significant wealth from its seafloor, this activity also poses serious risks. DSM can release toxic minerals, which could devastate fisheries, wildlife, and nearby communities which rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. The recent dismissal of Jacqueline Evans, director of Marae Moana, for her support of a moratorium on DSM, is but one example of increasing tension between these different visions.

To address the lack of international regulations governing DSM, the 1982 Law of the Seas Convention established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an independent international organization with the authority to review and distribute commercial exploration and mining permits. Until the ISA sets guidelines in 2020, no mining can occur and it remains to be seen if DSM mining will take place in the Cook Islands. Whatever happens, 2020 will be a pivotal year for the future of DSM.

The Climate Crisis Continues to Intensify Droughts in Australia

Day zero”, when water runs out, is a growing reality for communities in Australia. From New South Wales to Queensland, growing water scarcity threatens their economic security and livelihoods. Some estimates find that 97 percent of New South Wales is suffering from drought conditions. As the lower River Darling dries up, towns are having to increasingly rely on water trucks for their survival.

Significant decreases in rainfall, in part caused by climate change, is further limiting Australia’s ability to recover from previous droughts, making future droughts more severe. In addition, rising temperatures are combining with water scarcity to reduce wheat yields across Australia. In the short term, drought conditions threaten food production and access to clean water, decimating rural communities which rely on farming for their livelihoods. In the long term, reductions in wheat yield opens up opportunities for other countries to take over Australia’s market shares, weakening its position as a major wheat exporter.

Although it is impossible to completely prevent droughts, policy steps can be taken to build capacity and to improve Australia’s resilience to such events in the future. Reduced emphasis on damming, which leads to increased water evaporation, as well as improving sustainable irrigation can both help to alleviate water stress. In any event, Australia must prepare for a more water scarce future.

Catching Up on NOAA’s Report on the Global State of IUU Fishing

Every three years the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports on the threat posed by illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing threatens marine management globally, and poses a threat to food, economic, and environmental security. It is crucial that current information concerning international fishing activities is available to national governments to inform policy making. This year the report found that although improvements had been made, Ecuador, Mexico, and South Korea failed to adequately address instances of IUU fishing by state flagged vessels.
 
Ecuador was cited as failing to fully investigate allegations of IUU fishing by its flagged vessels. Mexico and Russia were identified for their failure to address incidences of flagged vessels’ fishing activity in the United States’ economic exclusive zone (EEZ). Finally, concerns were raised over numerous allegations of Chinese-flagged vessels engaging in IUU fishing activities within other countries’ EEZ, including Argentina, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
 
Transparency is critical in the fight against IUU fishing. While South Korea has failed to effectively address allegations of flagged vessels illegally fishing after a fisheries closure, it has committed to adjusting its domestic law and to reinforce appropriate legal mechanisms. Despite this, the global fishing industry needs to enforce transparency across its supply chain to find and prosecute incidences of IUU fishing. To read more, see Stimson’s report on the security implications of IUU fishing.
 

Disease Spread Linked to Climate Change

As global temperatures increase, the habitats of mosquitos and bats expand, spreading diseases such as Malaria, Dengue, and Ebola. According to the World Health Organization, 2019 has been one of the worst years for dengue on record and the number of cases is expected to increase. Mosquitos are particularly problematic as they can breed in only a bottle cap worth of water. This spread is aided by unplanned urbanization, especially in communities which are not used to fighting such diseases. As new diseases spread to new areas, preventative measures must adapt to this changing climate.
 
 
 

The Cape Town Agreement Gains International Support

At the end of October, forty-eight countries, including China, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, signed the Cape Town Agreement. The agreement sets minimum safety requirements for design, construction, equipment, and insurance of fishing vessels twenty four meters or longer. Critically, all vessels from signatory states are required to undergo safety inspections every five years as well as having working two way radio communicators on board at all times. The agreement represents an important step in the ongoing fight against illegal, underreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing,and for ensuring safe working conditions onboard fishing vessels.
 
 
 

The Balance Between Fracking and Indigenous Rights in Argentina

Located in the vast expanses of the Neuquѐn province ofPatagonia, Vaca Muertais one of the largest reserves of shale oil and natural gas in the world. For the government of Argentina, this natural resource represents a much needed boast to the national economy. However, to the indigenous Mapuche people, fracking poses a significant threat. Not only have the Mapuche been moved from land which they have inhabited since the early 1900s, the fracking process has contaminated aquifers, leading to severe water insecurity. Moreover, the contaminated water has led to a rise in illness among the Mapuche people and their livestock, harming their livelihoods.With further protest and court suits likely to occur, it is vital that the Argentinian government findsa solution that balances the country’s economic security and the rights of the Mapuche peoples.
 
 
 

Turtle Bust in Malaysia

In August the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) increased protections for dozens of species of tortoises, one of the highest trafficked animal in the illegal pet trade. A raid in Malaysia seized hundreds of tortoises including the threatened Indian Star Tortoise and the critically endangered Asian Narrow Headed Softshell Tortoises. Seizures of this size showcase the robustness of criminal networks operating between India, the place of origin for many of these tortoises, and Malaysia and reinforce the need for continued cooperation of law enforcement and capacity building within and between these two countries.