Home >Our work >Sustainable management of seabed mineral resources in the Cook Islands

Photo credit: Seabed Minerals Authority: www.seabedmineralsauthority.gov.ck/image-gallery

Mining machine built to work on the ocean floor

Sustainable management of seabed mineral resources in the Cook Islands

The Government of the Cook Islands' Ministry of Marine Resources requested technical assistance in the development of the seabed minerals regulatory framework.

Country: Cook Islands
Host: Seabed Minerals Authority (SBMA)
Start date: 15/03/2012
End date: 15/11/2016
Policy area: Oceans and Natural Resources
Policy expert: Joshua Brien
Project manager: Joel Burman


The Cook Islands is at an important juncture in the development of its seabed minerals; a potentially highly lucrative resource. Throughout 2009 and 2010, the Government of the Cook Islands (GOCI) received legal and technical assistance from the Secretariat’s Economic and Legal Section.

With this assistance, the new national legislation, the Seabed Minerals Act 2010, was enacted by Parliament in February 2010. Once in force, it provided for the establishment of a statutory authority, the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA), to regulate this new economic sector in keeping with standard global practice in the administration of extractive industries.


To facilitate the sustainable development and management of the Cook Islands' seabed minerals, a potentially lucrative resource.

This project will facilitate the establishment of an appropriately functioning regulatory body, and will provide capacity building and tools to facilitate the successful regulation of the industry.


The direct beneficiay of this project is the SBMA, which benefits from advice and capacity building support in operationalising the Act along with supporting policies, guidelines and regulations.

Regulations under the Act as well as seabed mineral mining monitoring and inspection protocols and procedures are also being developed to support the wider regulatory environment.

The project is expected to have a significant impact upon the development of the potentially highly-lucrative seabed mineral deposits of the Cook Islands, with significant potential positive implications for the future sustainable development of the country, through the contribution to economic development resulting from revenue generated.

This project will complement previous and ongoing technical and legal assistance provided to the GOCI in this area by the Secretariat’s Oceans and Natural Resources Division (ONRD). The project will enable the GOCI to maximise the effectiveness of their limited national financial resources, with the subsequent regulation of the industry being expected to be financed through the revenue it generates.

  • Establishment of the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority (SBMA), along with the development of Business Plans, Operational Work plans and staffing structure
  • The Seabed Minerals Act (originally drafted by the Secretariat) has been approved by Cabinet and brought into force, with a second Review underway on the basis of review and refinement by CFTC experts in conjunction with the SBMA Commissioner
  • Review and approval of the Seabed Minerals Act Regulations – which included inputs from both the CFTC expert and ONRD
  • Development and approval of a National Seabed Minerals Policy in the Cook Islands
  • The launch of the first national tender for seabed minerals of this kind (the only other experience being in International waters), supported by the preparation for tender of the acreage, supported by an allocation strategy and the development of a technical data package. The Tender was formally opened on 10th August 2015. The in-ground value has been estimated at USD$1.7 trillion
  • Support for the development of environmental legislation by the National Environmental Services (NES) and ongoing advice for the Marae Moana (Marine Park) project 
  • Collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM) financial regulatory team on the development of the fiscal policy settings for seabed minerals – income tax/royalty/RRT regime - which has been approved
  • A “digital library” of relevant local and regional technical reports has been developed by the expert and this information is made available to any interested individual or organisation.
  • Twinning arrangements have been established with New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals (NZPAM) and New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to build the capacity of Cook Island personnel in the practical regulation of natural resources.