Biodiversity losses from deep-sea mining are unavoidable and possibly irrevocable, an international team of 15 marine scientists, resource economists and legal scholars argue in a letter published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The experts say the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is responsible under the UN Law of the Sea for regulating undersea mining in areas outside national jurisdictions, must recognize this risk. They say it must also communicate the risk clearly to its member states and the public to inform discussions about whether deep-seabed mining should proceed, and if so, what standards and safeguards need to be put into place to minimize biodiversity loss.
“There is tremendous uncertainty about ecological responses to deep-sea mining,” said Cindy L. Van Dover, Harvey W. Smith Professor of Biological Oceanography at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “Responsible mining needs to rely on environmental management actions that will protect deep-sea biodiversity and not on actions that are unproven or unreasonable.”
“The extraction of non-renewable resources always includes tradeoffs,” said Linwood Pendleton, International Chair in Marine Ecosystem Services at the European Institute of Marine Studies and an adjunct professor at Duke’s Nicholas School. “A serious trade-off for deep-sea mining will be an unavoidable loss of biodiversity, including many species that have yet to be discovered.”
Faced with this inevitable outcome, it’s important that we understand deep-sea ecosystems and have a good idea of what we stand to lose before mining alters the seafloor forever, said Pendleton, who also serves as a senior scholar in the Oceans and Coastal Policy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
Time is of the essence, the experts stress.
“Undersea deposits of metals and rare earth elements are not yet being mined, but there has been an increase in the number of applications for mining contracts,” said Elva Escobar of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology. “In 2001, there were just six deep-sea mineral exploration contracts; by the end of 2017, there will be a total of 27 projects.”
These projects include 18 contracts for polymetallic nodules, six for polymetallic sulfides and four for ferromanganese crusts, Escobar said. Of these, 17 would take place in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean between Hawai’i and Central America.
Industry estimates that billions of tons of manganese, copper, nickel and cobalt lie on or beneath the seafloor. These metals are used in electrical generators and motors, metal alloys, batteries, paints, and many other products.
Some mining proponents have argued that companies could offset the inevitable damage their activities will cause by restoring coastal ecosystems or creating new artificial offshore reefs. “But this is like saving apple orchards to protect orange groves,” Van Dover said.
“The argument that you can compensate for the loss of biological diversity in the deep sea with gains in diversity elsewhere is so ambiguous as to be scientifically meaningless,” said Craig Smith, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
Deep-sea ecosystems and species can take decades or even centuries to recover from a disturbance, if they recover at all, Van Dover noted.
The scale of some proposed mining operations — the largest of which will cover more than 83,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Maine — and the depths at which some mining is to be conducted (three miles or more below the sea surface) will make reclamation of the affected sites so cost-prohibitive as to be unrealistic, the authors argue. And the approaches needed to perform restorative action are still largely untested.
The Latest on: Deep-sea mining biodiversity loss
- Do offsets and biobanking protect biodiversity?on January 24, 2021 at 3:46 pm
Biodiversity offsets have become a widely-accepted way to attempt to compensate for the destruction of habitat in large scale developments, but do they work?
- The price of a greener futureon January 6, 2021 at 8:11 am
Illustration: Mountain People Prospecting for the materials to construct these devices, then mining them, could have very serious ecological consequences and major impacts on biodiversity ... said ...
- Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction: Where to?on January 5, 2021 at 4:00 pm
The areas include deep-sea trenches ... treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the marine areas known to be beyond jurisdiction of any state. The last decade saw much loss ...
- Child labour, toxic leaks: the price we could pay for a greener futureon January 3, 2021 at 12:14 am
Prospecting for the materials to construct these devices, then mining them, could have very serious ecological consequences and major impacts on biodiversity ... deep sea mining As a result ...
- The State of the Planet is brokenon January 1, 2021 at 5:39 pm
At last year’s Climate Action Summit, we launched the Getting to Zero Shipping Coalition to push for zero emissions deep sea vessels by ... extractive resource mining, and to broader sustainable ...
- Deep dive to new resourceson January 1, 2021 at 5:03 am
“Reckless deep-sea mining companies are keen to start plundering the seabed for minerals and metals, risking irreversible wildlife loss and disturbing important carbon stores that could make ...
- Must we risk destroying the ocean to save the planet?on December 26, 2020 at 8:56 pm
So, who will gain from mining the seafloor ... is still struggling to reverse accelerating biodiversity loss. Preserving our common deep-sea heritage means taking responsibility for the future ...
- Save planet Earth but destroy the ocean?on December 25, 2020 at 4:00 pm
But recent economic analyses suggest that existing land-based mining and a transition toward ... is still struggling to reverse accelerating biodiversity loss and ocean decline. Preserving our common ...
- Seafloor deposits of minerals could soon become commercially available amid concerns over deep-sea miningon December 12, 2020 at 7:48 pm
Any extinctions could mean the loss of unique ... moratorium on deep-sea mining until a set of conditions is met, including a comprehensive understanding of deep-sea biodiversity, clear social ...
- Mining the Deep Sea Could Mean Unique Ecosystems Are ‘Lost Forever’on August 9, 2020 at 7:02 pm
A new analysis of 250 studies has found that the negative impacts of deep sea ... mining could disturb microbes that sequester greenhouse gases like carbon and methane, though exactly what their ...
via Google News and Bing News