Source: The New Yorker
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert explores the murky world of deep-sea mining and what the future holds for our ocean.
Dear Ms. Abbott,
We are writing in response to your show on Sunday November 17 to register our serious disappointment and concern over the reporting bias and errors, and to correct some of the most egregious misconceptions purveyed. The production departed from the usual high standards of 60 Minutes, completely lacked balance, and could even be mistaken for a DeepGreen promotional piece.
There without doubt is a need for a more strategic global approach to mineral resource production, extraction, use and re-use. Minerals are key to addressing the climate crisis and human development priorities for the 21st century. But deep seabed mining is an irresponsible approach given current scientific knowledge, the importance of a healthy ocean, and the current state of the marine environment. Here we offer a synthesis of some of the most important points that we would have expected your program to pick up on.
In your segment, DeepGreen representative Gerrard Baron claims that DeepGreen’s operation is not mining, merely ‘harvesting’. This is a clear public relations ploy meant to mislead the public which went unchallenged. Firstly, mining is in no sense ‘harvesting’, a term which applies to a crop, as in farming. Manganese nodules are not renewable: they are minerals, occurring as the result of millions of years of accretion. Deep-sea mining is mineral extraction in every sense that comes with a plethora of harmful environmental impacts, whether or not there is drilling or digging involved.
Of course deep-sea mining differs from terrestrial mining, due to the great physical differences in the two types of environments. According to scientists, the mining of manganese nodules targeted by DeepGreen and other miners is likely to cause widespread destruction of marine life in and on the seabed. A single 30-year mining operation in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) would directly impact approximately 3,000-3,500 square miles (8,000-9,000 km2) of seabed, though estimates vary. Sediment plumes generated by the mining would likely impact deep-sea species and ecosystems well beyond the actual mining sites along the seafloor and in the water column, including through the emission of noise and light and the discharge of sediment, residual ore and wastewater from the mining ships at sea. Recent studies have concluded that the CCZ is an area of much higher biodiversity than previously thought and that the nodules themselves provide critical ‘substrate’ for many species, including important habitat forming species in the region.
An article published in Nature Geoscience in June 2017 and another in Frontiers in Marine Science in April 2018 argue that for these and other reasons biodiversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur and that most of this loss is likely to be permanent on human timescales given the very slow rates of recovery of deep-sea ecosystems. The deep ocean is already and increasingly facing multiple environmental stressors from pollutants, plastics, and climate change and related impacts such as acidification, warming, deoxygenation and reduced supply of nutrients from surface waters. We know very little about the deep sea, and new species are still being regularly discovered by deep-sea expeditions – species that could provide important ecosystem services that we do not yet understand, or even hold the key to medical or technological breakthroughs. Knowingly destroying an ecosystem we are only just beginning to understand cannot conceivably be called ‘environmentalism’, regardless of how it is spun.
Your segment mentions the Casper octopus. These animals lay their eggs on sponges which can only be found on the nodules targeted by companies like DeepGreen. They spend several years tending to these eggs, of which they lay very few, not even leaving to feed until the eggs successfully hatch, at which point the octopus dies, its mission completed. What will happen to the Casper octopus if deep-sea mining companies are permitted to destroy their nurseries?
The deep sea is not an ‘alien landscape’, as quoted by your narrator. Rather, it is the planet’s largest ecosystem, home to the greatest diversity of species and ecosystems on Earth, and essential to the proper functioning of our biosphere. Half of our planet’s oxygen is provided by the ocean.
Deep-sea processes are an important part of the ocean’s carbon storage system, and deep-sea sediments are significant carbon sinks. Many of these processes are still not fully understood, but disrupting them comes with considerable risk. Introducing a new extractive industry in the name of renewable energy could disrupt the ability of the deep sea to sequester and store carbon, or result in the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere as a side effect, further contributing to the climate crisis.
DeepGreen claims that “the world has a problem” because “it’s getting harder to obtain the metals we need for our future – to build the electric cars, wind turbines, smartphones, supercomputers and other future technologies that will make us less reliant on fossil fuels” and that deep seabed mining is the answer to the supply problem. A 2016 report by the Institute for Sustainable Futures – ‘Renewable Energy and Deep-Sea Mining: Supply, Demand and Scenarios’ – refutes this claim. Having reviewed global supplies and projected demand for metals currently considered essential to renewable energy technology, the report concludes that even under the most ambitious scenario (a 100% renewable energy economy globally by 2050) it is not necessary to mine the deep sea.
It is simply not arguable that there are insufficient minerals on land to supply renewable energy. The proposition by DeepGreen is not that it is necessary, but rather preferable, to mine minerals from the deep sea. This argument is made in disregard of the long term environmental damage that will be caused to the ocean and sea floor, and in disregard of the scientific uncertainties due to lack of knowledge of the deep sea and enormous uncertainties around the technologies that will be used.
For all these reasons, many observers, from the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Ocean to the European Parliament and the Long Distance Fisheries Advisory Council to the European Union, are calling for a moratorium or pause on the rush to mine the deep seabed. Several point to the Decade for Ocean Science (2021-2030) as an opportunity to better understand what we stand to lose in the biodiversity and ecosystem function of the deep sea, before we destroy large areas of it for good.
Civil society is similarly active (despite being completely omitted from your feature). The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), founded in 2004, is a coalition of over 80 organizations worldwide working to protect deep-sea and open ocean ecosystems. Since 2014, we have worked extensively on the issue of deep-sea mining both at the ISA and multiple other forums beyond. In August 2019 the Coalition released an updated position statement calling for a moratorium unless and until a number of key conditions are met.
Your program’s central argument, that the US is being ‘left out’, ignores the fact that one of the largest defense contractors in the US has found a way around the US decision not to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. The largest private company that has a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore for deep-sea minerals is US firm Lockheed Martin. Through its subsidiary, UK Seabed Resources which is sponsored by the United Kingdom, Lockheed has successfully obtained permits from the ISA to explore for nodules in the eastern Pacific Ocean, in an area totaling over 100,000 square miles of seabed (265,000 km²) – roughly the size of the state of Colorado. Five minutes of research on your part would have disclosed this fact.
Numerous bodies are calling for transformational change in our use of the Earth’s resources to reverse environmentally destructive and wasteful production and consumption patterns. Instead, deep-sea mining would open a whole new frontier of environmental degradation and potential extinctions across areas of the planet that are poorly studied and that have remained relatively untouched by direct human impact. Your researchers could and should have done far more to assess and present the entire story: a story that is replete in scientific literature, media commentary and social media, as a simple Google search for ‘deep sea mining and environment’ will show.
We invite 60 Minutes to contact us to arrange for a follow-up story. We will also put you in touch with other scientists, concerned governments, researchers and civil society organizations working on this issue.
Co-Founder, Political and Policy Advisor
Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday 5 July 2019
Countries fishing on the high seas of the Indian Ocean have continued to seriously fail to uphold their commitments to protect deep-sea ecosystems from deep water bottom fishing, said the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), as a fisheries management meeting for the Southern Indian Ocean came to an end today (5 July 2019).
At the conclusion of the Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) annual meeting in Mauritius, the DSCC, which represents over 80 non-governmental organizations, called on the body to seriously step up its protection of deep-sea ecosystems, vulnerable marine ecosystems, deep-sea sharks and toothfish. Deep-sea trawling continues to be permitted on seamounts in the region with inadequate constraints in place to protect deep-sea corals, sponges and other biodiversity hot spots.
Duncan Currie of the DSCC, who attended the meeting, said: “The inadequate decisions reached fail to adequately protect deep-sea ecosystems and species at a time when we know that we must escalate our collective efforts to protect the whole ocean. Governments need to step up and resist pressure by industry to weaken protection.”
The meeting addressed contentious issues, including the rapid increases in toothfish fishing by Spanish vessels in southern parts of the SIOFA area, adjacent to areas managed by CCAMLR, the international body for managing the Southern Ocean ecosystem. CCAMLR has taken measures to better manage its toothfish stocks. Also controversial was the decision to permit a bycatch of fragile sponges amounting 300 kg limit per trawl tow, over the recommended 60 kg limit. A DSCC request to reinsert a ban on removal of shark fins was rejected. The organization did agree a high seas inspection and boarding regime, which DSCC welcomes.
Duncan Currie said: “These fisheries agreements are supposed to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems such as sponges, not sanction their destruction.”
The Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA) was signed in Rome the 7th July 2006 and entered into force in June 2012. To date, SIOFA has nine Contracting Parties: Australia, the Cook Islands, the European Union, France on behalf of its Indian Ocean Territories, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Thailand.
For further information please contact:
Author: Zafirah Zein
There is increasing pressure to delve into the deep sea and extract precious minerals and metals that governments and businesses say are crucial to driving a low-carbon future. Has the mining industry sunk to new lows?
Source: Down To Earth
The international non-profit raises concerns on the International Seabed Authority’s role and competence.
Source: The Guardian
Author: Matthew Taylor
The world’s oceans are facing a “new industrial frontier” from a fledgling deep-sea mining industry as companies line up to extract metals and minerals from some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, a report has found.
Source: Financial Times
Author: Henry Sanderson
Deep-sea mining risks “severe and potentially irreversible” environmental harm and the UK should prioritise protecting the ocean rather than extracting minerals from it, Greenpeace said. The government has awarded deep-sea exploration licences to a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, which could lead to deep-sea mining despite Westminster being aware of the environmental risks, the environmental group said.
Source: EU Reporter
The International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental organization established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, is in the process of developing regulations that would permit mining the international areas of the deep ocean seabed.
DSCC representatives Duncan Currie and Matthew Gianni attended the International Seabed Authority Ad Hoc Working Group on Financial Matters, followed by a special Council meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, from 21 February to 1 March, 2019.
At the Working Group, the DSCC asked repeatedly how the 1% figure earmarked for the environment had been derived. The DSCC said that an accurate valuation of deep sea ecosystem services and damage to biodiversity is key, and emphasized that the Liability Fund would need to be fully funded before any mining begins. “It is essential that all funds for the environment, including liability funds, are paid by deep-sea miners, not by the Common Heritage of Mankind,” said Duncan Currie. “The work on valuing the deep sea and the inevitable loss of biodiversity from mining has not even begun.”
At the Council meeting, the DSCC insisted that the precautionary principle must be binding, that workshops must be open to all participants, and that there should be an Environment or Scientific Committee in place. Equally important for transparency, the Legal and Technical Commission should hold its meetings in open session and there should be virtual webinars to facilitate participation. Additionally, the DSCC noted that standards must be binding and that regional environmental management plans must be in place before any mining applications are accepted.
“It is unacceptable that the powerful Legal and Technical Commission holds its meetings behind closed doors,” said Matthew Gianni, “and it is long past time that an Environment or Scientific Committee was formed.”
The DSCC was, however, encouraged by an intervention by the African Group, which stated that “ We would like to recall, in this regard, words pronounced by Peter Thomson, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Ocean…in Davos last month, ‘There is a UN decade for Ocean science, which has been agreed to by 193 countries […] in the General Assembly in December 2017, and that decade will run from 2021 to 2030 […] why wouldn’t we give that decade its full run before we start even thinking about disturbing the seabed of the high seas, we are talking moratorium of 10 years in that case’. These words are food for thought to all of us.”
The DSCC hosted a side event about environmental impact assessments – a critical measure toward ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment. The event focused on the importance of public independent scientific advice and expert examination of all environmental documents, with stakeholder participation.
During the meeting, Nauru gave its national microphone to deep-sea mining company DeepGreen, which made numerous unsubstantiated claims, including that deep-sea mining is needed for renewable energy and that it will stop when it has enough. Yet DeepGreen has asked for the suggested 30 year mining period to be extended. Belgium then handed its microphone (normally the privilege and responsibility of a government representing its national interests) to its contractor – Deme – which insisted that was not intending to “mine” but to “harvest” deep-sea minerals.
“We, and many others, were shocked that Belgium and Nauru handed over their microphones to their sponsored contactors,” said DSCC coordinator, Sian Owen. “It is unacceptable for countries to cede their voice to corporate entities. Governments are expected to represent the broad interests of their entire citizenry. Corporate actors have much narrower private interests. We are seeking confirmation that Belgium stands behind Deme’s claims. If not, they must repudiate them”.
The ISA Council and Assembly meet again from 15-26 July 2019.
DSCC interventions (speeches) and presentations are available at https://www.savethehighseas.org/resources/publications/dscc-interventions-to-the-international-seabed-authority-for-the-25th-annual-session-in-february-2019/