Every Country Needs a KASM

Like most surfers, we rolled into Raglan looking for New Zealand’s most celebrated left wave and we found it. It’s a smooth, enjoyable ride as long as you avoid the bed of rocks and its bevy of contenders, and we liked it so much that we decided to stay for awhile. After our first session, we took a stroll around town and quickly realized that all was not well in this seemingly quiet surf town. What was something completely “news” to us was already a familiar reality for the approx. 5,000 Raglan residents: Their beautiful coastline was in danger of disappearing and for a reason that most people have never even heard of.

Photo: KASM


These are the messages that paper the town as a reminder to both residents and tourists as to what the next ominous swell may bring if we are not vigilant. And if you follow the paper trail, like we did, it will eventually lead you to the doorstep of the long-time Raglan resident, Phil McCabe. Phil is the owner of a local sustainable living community and traveler’s accommodation, Solscape, and has been the chairperson of the non-profit activist organization, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) since 2012.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining was first founded in 2005 as a community response to numerous mining companies prospecting in the South Taranaki Bight, a large bay on New Zealand’s North Island that contains iron-rich black sand run-off from the Taranaki Mountain. Seabed mining is a relatively new mineral extraction process that involves retrieving submerged mineral deposits laid down over thousands of years from the sea floor. Very little research has been done on the full environmental impact of this new practice, but numerous concerns have already been raised due to its destructive nature. Furthermore, seabed mining in the South Taranaki Bight directly threatens the feeding grounds of the world’s largest whale and the habitat of one of the world’s critically endangered dolphin species.

On their website, KASM has provided some infographics to describe the seabed mining procedure and its potential impact on the marine ecosystem (see below).

“Well, first of all, mountains are sacred to the indigenous people, the Maori, “ Phil explained at the start of our interview. “So that sand from the Taranaki Mountain is sacred and should not be used. But really, the issue of seabed mining is offensive to all humans and our connection with nature. You’re dredging the entire area and wiping out the marine community. That doesn’t replenish itself overnight.”

Phil is a practicing permaculturist and so the very idea of giving the green light to such an unsustainable procedure unnerves him deeply. “It’s stupid,” he says. “Every environmental indicator shows that our oceans are in decline. And we’re talking in 2016 – developed modern human beings – about introducing an activity that has never been done before. What are we thinking? We should be making our waste and recycling legislation far more comprehensive. We should be writing laws that improve product design and mining our urban landfills. We need to stop destroying our natural environments – that’s last century thinking.”



And KASM, with Phil at the helm, have made it their mission to make sure this message is heard. Phil has walked and cycled the whole coastline stretch under the threat of seabed mining in a combined effort with his family and Australian free surfer David Rostovich (who kayaked) to raise awareness within the coastal community. This kind of campaigning is no easy task.

“In the beginning, sometimes, you go – why am I doing this?” Phil admitted. “There was no one turning up to our coastal roadshow meetings. No one paying attention. But then after I walked the coast, I went back two years later and I told people. I know this coastline is beautiful. I know that that spot there has these massive boulders, there is a seal colony there. I know that river mouth is home to the biggest flock of seagulls I’ve ever seen in my life. And there are farmers that have been there for generations, and they like when I tell them that. You get some credibility when you put the yards in, whether or not it feels like anything. It doesn’t matter because you’ve done it. So having an idea, even if it seems crazy, if somewhere in there it seems like the right thing to do – just do it. You don’t know what ripples it’s going to create. I hold that so strongly now because if it weren’t for those first steps, we wouldn’t have made the progress that we have now.”

There are many great views of this progress. There is the simple, continued presence of Raglan’s most famous break, undisturbed by seabed mining. Most businesses you frequent in Raglan continue to show their support for KASM’s cause and the KASM website serves as a information point and homebase for present and future activists. Their pre and post 2012 permit maps of the New Zealand coastline can attest to a marked decrease in coastline permit concessions for mining company prospecting.

Photo: KASM

“I think for me, one of my favorite moments was when the Maori community really got on board,” Phil recalled. “We did a petition that called for a moratorium on seabed mining. I told the Maori tribe closest to the proposed mining site that I was delivering the petition in ten days down in Wellington. They called me the next day and said, ‘We’re coming too. We’ve got two busloads.’ It was phenomenal. Every TV channel was there. The Maori were doing Haka. Even the politicians came out and listened to us. It’s been really great to see so many diverse groups people involved in this cause.”

Due to the strong opposition, the Environmental Protection Agency turned down the marine license application requested by the Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) mining company in 2014. It was a wecolme victory for KASM and the coastal community, but somewhat short-lived, as TTR is back again and has applied for a similar license. They want to mine 50 million tons of sand, extract the iron ore and dump 45 million tonnes of sediment back into the South Taranaki Bight in the next 20 years.

Yet Phil is unfazed by the return to battle. “We beat them once and I’m fairly confident we can beat them again.” Instead, he draws our attention to the greater war: ” I think the story here – beyond the Kiwis – is that this is a global issue. Every nation on Earth is gearing up for seabed mining, but it hasn’t started yet. This is a practice that we actually have the chance to stop. And we, in New Zealand, have already shown that it’s unacceptable. “

Since 1994, the United Nations entity, the International Seabed Authority, has been writing legislation on regulations for the mining of international waters. The practice of seabed mining in international waters poses a particularly dangerous risk because of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality of most humans. We will not be out there to witness the immediate impact of this mineral extraction, but we can be sure we will feel its affects when they arrive on our shores.

“The ocean covers two thirds of our planet and there is a lot of stuff out there. Who are the interested parties in international waters?” Phil asks. “Here, we stand together – the fishermen, the surfers, the Maoris, the coastal community – but international waters belong to no one. How do we make what they might do out there in the middle of the ocean visible? How do we bring the issue home? Because this is a threat that concerns every human being on Earth… I do think that every country needs a KASM.”

So when you stoke your friends up about Raglan’s sweet left wave, make sure you stoke the fires against seabed mining as well. This is a global issue that requires a global response and we are lucky to have KASM leading the way.

KASM is returning to court for a public hearing on Dec. 12th to present their case against Trans Tasman Resources’ second bid for a marine license to mine the area. Please show your support for their cause by making a submission on their website here.  If you would like more information about seabed mining and how you can take action, please check out KASM’s website.


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