New report reveals the dangers of deep-sea mining

Deep-sea mining (DSM) could lead to irreversible damage to marine biodiversity and exacerbate the climate crisis, a new report has revealed.

More than 75 per cent of the seafloor has yet to be observed and mapped, and less than one per cent has been explored. This gap in knowledge and the potential related risks illustrated by recent studies highlight how deep-sea mining (DSM) could lead to irreversible damage to marine biodiversity and exacerbate the climate crisis. This picture emerged from the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) 2023 update to their early 2020 report, ‘An assessment of the risks and impacts of seabed mining on marine ecosystems.’

In 2021, IUCN members voted to support a moratorium on deep-sea mining © Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images

“This is a critical year for the future of our ocean. In September 2021, members of IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, voted to support a moratorium on deep-seabed mining unless and until a number of requirements are met. This included the stipulation that mining risks are comprehensively understood and effective protection can be ensured “, said Catherine Weller, Fauna & Flora Global Policy Director, in a statement. “The research analyzed in Fauna & Flora’s update report unequivocally proves that this is still far from reality, and therefore we – alongside many other organizations working to protect the future of our planet – urge the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to avoid granting mining contracts prematurely and adopt a moratorium on deep-sea mining.”

What is deep-seabed mining?

Extracting mineral reserves from the ocean floor at a depth exceeding 200 meters is known as deep-sea mining. Deep-sea mining is being prompted by rising demand for metals and the discoveries of mineral deposits in the form of Polymetallic nodules, Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and Polymetallic sulfides in the deep ocean. Despite environmental concerns, according to the report by the British charity, there are 30 deep-sea mineral exploration contacts awaiting approval.

Which dangers has the report highlighted?

Deep-sea ecosystems are crucial for the climate and the ocean, a profoundly interconnected and complex body of water whose biological, biochemical, and geophysical processes are yet to be fully understood. From the report’s analysis, it has emerged that the ecosystems in the areas targeted by deep-sea mining are sensitive to human action. Deep sea mining could lead to habitat alteration, loss, fragmentation, and destruction of biota. It could impact microbial life, affecting CO2 sequestration and climate regulation. It could induce disturbance by introducing noise, vibration, and light in environments unadapted to such conditions.

“We know less about the deep sea than any other place on the planet; over 75% of the seafloor still remains unmapped and less than 1% of the deep ocean has been explored. What we do know, however, is that the ocean plays a critical role in the basic functioning of our planet and protecting its delicate ecosystem is, therefore, not just critical for marine biodiversity, but for all life on Earth”, commented Sophie Benbow, Director of Marine at Fauna & Flora. “The predicted consequences and huge uncertainties associated with deep-seabed mining must not be ignored. Bold decisions are now required to put ocean health and the benefits of the deep sea for all humankind front and centre. Once initiated, deep-seabed mining and its effects may be impossible to stop.”

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