Scientists warn that a controversial deep-sea mining operation could have devastating effects on marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and climate change.
Deep seabed is Earth’s final frontier. However, this vast, unexplored, dark, and pristine abyss could be under threat from destructive deep-sea mines that could reach full speed within months.
Dr Akito Yamahara, a deep sea ecologist who is also an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Swire Institute of Martial Science, said that deep-sea scientists are most concerned about deep-sea miners.
China and private companies are leading the deep-sea mining agenda. They want to extract polymetallic nudules from deep ocean floors. These potato-sized nuggets, rich in valuable cobalt and nickel, could be the key to the world’s sustainable future.
There is a growing chorus of dissidents who insist that the environmental impact of deep-sea mining operations hasn’t been adequately assessed. They use huge seabed tractors that can lift up nodules and crush them before leaving behind long plumes of sediment.
Yasuhara says that the deep seabed could be compared to a tropical rainforest or a coral Reef in terms of biodiversity, but it is unique because of its size and depth. This rare and pristine environment has been largely unexplored by mankind until recently. It is technically difficult to reach these subsea habitats, which are several kilometres below the surface. This makes research difficult and makes information scarce.
Yasuhara says that we don’t know the number of deep-sea species. Scientists are afraid that this environment will be destroyed before they can fully assess and understand it.
Yasuhara joined the 617 ocean scientists and policy specialists from more than 44 countries to address this gap in knowledge. SignedA statement calling for a halt to deep-sea miner.
Marine Expert Statement calling for a halt to deep-sea mining click to view
The deep sea is home of a significant amount of Earth’s biodiversity. However, most species are still unknown. The diversity and richness of organisms found in deep seas supports ecosystem processes essential for the Earth’s natural systems. The biosphere’s deep oceans also account for more than 90%. They play a critical role in climate regulation and fisheries production as well as elemental cycling. It is an integral part the culture and well-being local communities, and the seafloor forms part the common heritage for all humankind. Deep-sea ecosystems are currently in danger from a variety of anthropogenic stressors, including pollution, bottom trawling, and climate change. These stressors would be exacerbated by deep-sea mining, which would lead to ecosystem dysfunction and biodiversity loss that would be irreversible over a long period of time. There are several concerns about the potential impacts of deep sea mining.
- The direct loss of ecologically and unique species and populations due to the destruction, destruction, or elimination of seafloor habitat. Many of these species were not discovered and understood before this.
- The production of large, persistent sediment slurry plumes that would impact seafloor and midwater species, and ecosystems well beyond the actual mining sites.
- The disruption of important ecological processes linking midwater and benthic ecologies;
- The resuspension or release of sediment, metals, and toxins into water column, both as a result of mining the seafloor or the discharge of mining wastewater by ships, can be detrimental to marine life, including the potential for contamination with commercially important species such as tunas.
- Noise pollution due to industrial machine activity on and near the ocean floor, and the transporting of ore slurries through pipes to the sea surface can cause physiological and behavioral stress for marine mammals.
- Uncertain impacts on carbon sequestration dynamics, deep-ocean carbon storage, and carbon sequestration dynamics
There is little scientific information about the biology, ecology, connectivity, and ecosystem services provided by deep-sea species and ecosystems. These reports are essential in understanding the potential dangers of deep-sea mines to deep-ocean biodiversity and ecosystems functioning, as well human well-being. A growing number of scientific reports (IPBES and IPCC, for example) also indicate that Earth’s biodiversity is at risk. A growing number of scientific reports (IPBES, IPCC, etc.) indicate that Earth’s biodiversity is at greater risk of extinction.
We recommend that the transition from the exploration of mineral resources be halted until sufficient scientific information is obtained to inform informed decisions about deep-sea mine authorization without significant marine environment damage and, if yes, under what conditions. The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), provides an opportunity to gather more information about species and ecosystems that could potentially be affected by deep-sea mines. Scientists value evidence-based decisions, especially when it comes to major decisions such as opening up a new frontier in the ocean for large-scale industrial resource extraction. Because of its importance to the planet and our people, as well as the risk of massive and permanent loss of biodiversity, ecosystems and functions, it is imperative that all efforts to mine the deep sea should be halted. We also need to accelerate research to better understand the issues.
The expert statement strongly suggests that the transition to the extraction of mineral resources be halted until sufficient scientific information has been obtained to enable informed decisions about deep-sea mine authorization without significant marine environment damage and, if so under what conditions.
Yasuhara is not the only one calling for a moratorium in all seabed mining activity.
Last December 1, Volkswagen Group joined other major companies with Triodos Bank and Scania.Like the BMW Group and Volvo Group, Samsung SDI Google, Philips and others in pledging not to use minerals from the deep ocean for their products.
There is also opposition to seabed drilling at grassroots level in the Pacific Island States like Tonga and the Marshall Islands. They are located in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, where most of the deep-sea-mining attention is concentrated. This means that they have the most to gain from any future environmental destruction.
The Te Ipukarea Society in Cook Islands, one of these prominent indigenous environmental concern groups, recently pointed out the overwhelming support of the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress for a moratorium seabed mining at its meeting this year in Marseilles.
Eighteen representatives from six different countries voted against the moratorium. 44 representatives from 39 nations voted in favor of the moratorium. This included two representatives from each of Japan, Belgium, and China. 26 of the more than 500 NGOs around the globe that voted against it.
These are the countries where many of the companies who want to mine deep sea minerals are based.
China isn’t the only one interested in deep-sea mining. However, it is determined to maintain its market dominance in rare earth elements and rare metals. It has worked tirelessly in perfecting its technology and has firmly embedded itself in the regulatory body, the International Seabed Authority. (ISA) is based in Jamaica.
The ISA issued 30 contracts to state-backed corporations, multinational corporations, and start-ups to study more than 1.3 Million Square Kilometers of the seabed. ChinaFive contracts in the portfolioIt has more rights than any other country to explore and potentially exploit 238,000 kilometres (an area that is more than six times as large as Taiwan).
Private corporations may be keen to make quick profits for shareholders, but China’s strategy is long-term strategic and politically-managed. It is governed by state-owned entities like the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association COMRA. China Minmetals Corporation, a huge international mining and metals enterprise based in Beijing.
China was one of the first countries to have a permanent representative to ISA. Tian Qi is also the ambassador of China to Jamaica and is often featured. Local newspapersextolling both the virtues of the ISA as well as his host country.
China was also first to sponsor and maintain exploration contracts for all three types in the international oceanbed area, excluding the Exclusive Economic Zones of individual countries. This makes China a favorite of the ISA elite as it derives its operating revenues from licence fees, which are reported to be US$500,000 per licensee and a yearly administration fee of US$47,000 for each contractor. China is therefore the most valuable client for ISA.
China is now one the top five financial contributors to the Authority’s budget, having been the 12th largest financial contributor in 2000. This is a remarkable improvement, stated Michael Lodge, ISA secretary-general in 2018, at a contract review.Signing ceremony for COMRA. China was the second largest contributor in 2016 to the ISA. It was a smart strategic investment with obvious geopolitical implications for China.
The two most important mineral deposits in ocean are polymetallic crusts and nodules. They are rich in rare metal elements, iron, manganese and copper, as well as cobalt, cobalt, nickel and other useful metals. A Wall Street Journal report from December stated that some estimates of China’s population are as follows:The rare-earth sector is the dominant industryIt is responsible for 90% of the complex processing and more than 70% of the world’s rare earths. These rare minerals are used in the manufacture of batteries for electric cars and renewable energy, as well as for smartphones touch screens and missile defense systems.
China approved the establishment of one of world’s largest rare-earths firms, as if to highlight the geopolitical value of deep-sea miners to China. China Rare Earth Group will work to ensure that China remains the dominant nation in the global supply chain for strategic metals. Tensions are increasing with the US.
China is one the most important countries in respect of the emerging seabed mining sector, Richard Page writes in his 2018 report on Chinese activity, policy and strategic interests in deep-sea fishing in the Pacific region, published by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign.
Some feel that China is too influential at ISA. This concern is amplified by the US not being represented due to it not having ratified the Law of the Sea Convention.
Critics claim that the ISA has been guilty of corporate corruption and lacks transparency, independent scrutiny, and scientific credibility.
Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator, of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) program, says that the ISA does not favor the interests or advice of scientists, but it is also questionable about the approval processes for EIA approvals. The deep-sea mining campaign.
In a recent interview,Dr Sandor Mulsow was the Head of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources of ISA from 2013 to 2019. He said he had seen many irregularities.
He told reporters that ISA is not equipped to regulate any ocean activity given the way it is currently working.
After several days of in-person meetings, the 26th session ended on December 14, after the International Seabed Authority had concluded its 26th session. Journalists were not allowed and the ISA refused to answer any media questions via email sent from HKFP on multiple occasions.
One of the key goals was to agree a roadmap to a new mining code that will be in place by July 2023. This will regulate all extraction and exploitation activities. Reports indicate that any agreement is still in the offing.
The clock is ticking for the deep seabed’s rich biodiversity and its fragile ecosystem, unfortunately. Critics believe this will trigger a wild west-style, unregulated gold rush to devastate the deep seabed.
Despite the growing consensus that it is not necessary for seabed to be trashed in order to ensure a sustainable human future, and the widespread opposition of policy and science experts to seabed mining blindly – the clock is ticking down to June 2023.
The prospects for the planet’s last unspoiled fringes look very grim indeed, driven by multi-billion dollar investments and China’s long-term geopolitical ambitions.
Yasuhara feels that, given the unprecedented level of ocean warming, the increased acidification, and ignorance of the harmful effects of deep-sea mines, this is the most inappropriate time to be embarking upon large-scale destructive processes in an unknown and pristine environment. He stresses that the deep ocean makes up more than 90 percent of the biosphere and plays an important part in climate regulation.
He says that this is not the right moment from a climate perspective to start man-made interventions in the deep-sea ecosystem.