Mining the deep seabed will harm biodiversity. We need to talk about it

Date: June 8, 2018

Source: World Economic Forum

In 2017, Japan became the first country to test mining ocean minerals on a significant scale. While its operation took place at depths of about 1,600 metres, many deep seabed minerals are much deeper – more than four kilometres down. These are pitch-black environments in which pressures are bone-crushingly high, and life operates on a completely different timescale. At these depths, mistakes can be costly for both industry operators and the environment.

Mining the deep seabed for minerals such as copper, nickel, tin, zinc, cobalt and gold is a fledgling industry. Some suggest that it could become part of the ocean economy, which is projected to double its worth by 2030, to more than $3 trillion. However, the potential success of deep seabed mining is far from certain. Several commentators are concerned about its possible environmental impacts. Furthermore, there are significant regulatory, technical, economic, and scientific hurdles yet to be cleared.

World Oceans Day recognizes the importance of our marine environments to society. It is a timely reminder that closely watching the development of new ocean industries, such as deep seabed mining, is a shared concern and responsibility.

Balancing mining with the protection of oceans that are beyond national boundaries is the task of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Jamaica. The ISA is currently developing the world’s first international regulations for commercial-scale seabed mining. The ISA will need to set environmental management goals and objectives. However, an open and honest conversation about what environmental standards are achievable for seabed mining is yet to be had.

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