The Broadcast / Deep sea mining is an environmental nightmare (and one we could actually stop)

Deep sea mining is an environmental nightmare (and one we could actually stop)

As mining companies want to extract minerals and metals from the deep sea, scientists say this would cause irreversible harm to ocean life. The deep sea is home to incredible biodiversity, said to be on par with tropical rainforests. Mining machines would do immense damage to fragile deep-sea ecosystems and could disrupt the carbon-storing powers of the ocean. 

We cannot protect our oceans if we allow the deep seabed to be mined.

From long time Broadcast contributor and surfer, Dan Crockett of Blue Marine Foundation tells us why we must stop deep sea mining before it begins.


4 min read

Written by Dan Crockett

Image by Jade Sellick / Greenpeace

So much of what we try and do to protect and restore the marine environment is retrospective. As conservation organisations our interventions are trying to stop (or at least mitigate impacts of) activities that have put pressure on the ocean for generations. However, in the case of deep sea mining, we have the very rare chance to avert an environmental disaster before it happens. Unlike many out of sight, out of mind ocean issues, every one of us can contribute to stopping this highly destructive and unnecessary industry. We already know that the deep sea is full of extraordinary life (a single scientific expedition in the Pacific recently discovered 5000 new species – in an area threatened by deep sea mining). Deep sea mining is a story of shadowy governance, industry greenwash and total disregard for impending environmental devastation.

The International Seabed Authority (an agency of the United Nations mandated to act in the interests of its member states) regulates what happens on the seabed. Isolated in Jamaica, this opaque governance agency has repeatedly attracted criticism for acting above and beyond the remit of its secretariat to advance opportunities for the deep sea mining industry. Earlier this year, Germany questioned Michael Lodge (the director general of the ISA) for resisting measures by council members to slow down approval to start deep sea mining. It is not the first criticism Lodge and the ISA has attracted, with numerous reports of a lack of transparency and close proximity to the industry. Lodge suggests that environmental impacts of deep sea mining would be both manageable and predictable. But he cannot know this. At this point, nobody can. The environmental and climate impacts of destroying deep sea ecosystems unknown to science is simply not understood, nor is the cost of cleanup.

Representatives of the industry and its bought and paid for scientists have attempted to position deep sea mining as a solution to the climate crisis. They downplay the risks and environmental impacts, pushing a narrative that deep sea mining is a circular economy solution to the need for minerals. They say that the machines will gently gather nodules that are sitting on the seafloor. It is a distorted truth, which is hard to argue against, despite being motivated by greed rather than fact. Expert consensus is that we can get all the minerals we need from terrestrial sources, that technology will evolve beyond reliance on these minerals and recycling will become embedded across new supply chains. At this point there are no UK businesses investing in deep sea mining capability – so we personally stand to gain nothing economically.

Meanwhile, businesses in the supply chain (Volvo, Google and Samsung to name just a few) have said they will not receive minerals from deep sea mining. Major financial institutions have ruled out investing in deep sea mining, denying trillions in potential funding. Responsible political leaders around the world have already moved to call for a moratorium on deep sea mining (sixteen countries as of today and counting), but the UK government remains in an entrenched position at odds with their claims of being a highly ambitious leader in ocean conservation. They call for environmental regulations to be in place before mining starts but stop short of an outright call for a moratorium. The government is not being bold, it is hedging its bets and gambling with environmental systems that might support the stability of the planet. For insight into the creatures that will be destroyed, just look at footage from the Schmidt Institute.

The decision to mine the deep sea, if and when it comes, will be opaque like everything that the ISA does. The island of Nauru triggered the “two year rule” to begin mining and this will expire in July 2023. So it is all to play for and commitment for a moratorium is more critical than ever. Several environmental organisations in the UK are therefore calling for the government to evolve their position and support a moratorium on deep sea mining. To this end, a petition for the UK government to debate this topic in parliament has rapidly gained 10,000 signatures and now requires 100,000 signatures. Please sign it here and play your part in stopping this environmental disaster before it starts.


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