Deep sea nodule mining threatens Pacific Ocean environment and island nations

Deep sea nodule mining would cause extensive and severe damage lasting generations leading to irreversible species loss, a new report analyzing over 250 peer reviewed scientific articles finds.

The report notes that there is little to no social licence to mine deep sea nodules and refutes Canadian company DeepGreen Metals’ claims that there will be economic gains for Pacific island economies[1]Chin, A and Hari, K (2020), Predicting the impacts of mining of deep sea polymetallic nodules in the Pacific Ocean: A review of Scientific literature, Deep Sea Mining Campaign and MiningWatch Canada, 52 pages https://miningwatch.ca/sites/default/files/nodule_mining_in_the_pacific_ocean.pdf.

The report commissioned by Deep Sea Mining Campaign and MiningWatch Canada reveals a clear scientific consensus: the mining of deep sea nodules would cause irreversible damage to an ocean already under pressure; that a precautionary approach is warranted; and a moratorium is the only responsible way forward until several fundamental conditions can be met, including environmental, social and economic risks to be comprehensively understood and no loss of biodiversity.

“We’ve only scratched the surface of understanding the deep ocean,” Dr. Andrew Chin, the report’s lead researcher from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, said. “Science is just starting to appreciate that the deep sea is not an empty void but is brimming with wonderful and unique life forms. Deep sea ecosystems form an interconnected realm with mid and surface waters through the movement of species, energy flows, and currents.”

Chin added, “Not only will the nodule mining result in the loss of these species and damage deep sea beds for thousands of years, it will potentially result in negative consequences for the rest of the ocean and the people who depend on its health.”

Covering 30 per cent of the earth’s surface, the Pacific Ocean’s mineral rich polymetallic nodules have drawn speculation by mining companies and their investors. Canada’s DeepGreen Metals has partnered with three Pacific Island governments to obtain exploration licences for the Clarion Clipperton Zone, stretching 4,500 km between Kiribati and Mexico. They are urging the ISA to rapidly finalise regulations for mining the deep seabed with little resistance from the ISA General Secretary.

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign said, “Under the cover of COVID-19 the regulations could be pushed through despite the absence of meaningful public debate.”
“DeepGreen promotes deep sea mining as creating great wealth with minimal or no adverse impacts. The science does not support their claims. In fact, the best available research clearly indicates that the mining of deep sea nodules will place Pacific island states at great risk. The stakes are extremely high with Pacific economies, cultures, livelihoods, fisheries, food security, tourism, and iconic marine species all under threat from deep sea nodule mining.”

Rosenbaum added, “DeepGreen’s partnership with Tonga, Kiribati, and Nauru is potentially a catalyst for conflict with the push from Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea for a moratorium, and Pacific civil society’s vocal opposition to an industry that would destroy their oceans and Pacific way of life.”

Dr. Catherine Coumans, of MiningWatch Canada, said, “Plans to mine the deep sea show every hallmark of the environmental disasters industrial mining has created on land, including long-lasting ecosystem destruction and a failure to deliver benefits to local communities and vulnerable developing countries.”

“The report’s case study of the failed Nautilus Minerals deep sea mining project attests to the harsh realities of thinly capitalised operators, and contracts that protect corporate interests over that of governments. This project left the government of Papua New Guinea with a debt of $125 million US,” Coumans added.

DeepGreen Metals promotes deep sea mining as preferable to terrestrial mining to address projected shortages of minerals for technology required to reduce global carbon emissions.

Professor Alex Rogers, a widely published deep sea ecologist and expert reviewer of the report, refutes DeepGreen’s claim, “I do not agree that mining the deep seabed is necessary to achieve this. Post COVID-19, we have a unique opportunity to develop a ‘green’ transition to a zero-carbon economy with far more sustainable ways to meet mineral requirements.”

Rogers explained, “We can do this through better regulation of terrestrial mining, circular economies based on smart design, recycling, reduced demand, and development of new technologies such as batteries that do not rely on metals obtained with a high environmental cost.”

“Since the 1980s, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development have increasingly found their way into the management of ocean industries such as fisheries. Deep sea mining is a relic, left over from the extractive economic approaches of the ’60s and ’70s. It begs the question whether deep sea mining has any place in this modern age of a sustainable blue economy,” concluded Rogers.

References   [ + ]

1. Chin, A and Hari, K (2020), Predicting the impacts of mining of deep sea polymetallic nodules in the Pacific Ocean: A review of Scientific literature, Deep Sea Mining Campaign and MiningWatch Canada, 52 pages https://miningwatch.ca/sites/default/files/nodule_mining_in_the_pacific_ocean.pdf

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