Seabed mining risk to unique marine communities: New Zealand study

ocean

Xinhua News Agency | Global Post

Seabed mining in New Zealand water could wipe out communities of unique species unless special protection sites are set aside, New Zealand scientists announced Wednesday.

A study of underwater mountains, known as seamounts, found that hydrothermal activity helped to create unique sets of biological communities.

The study by researchers from Victoria University and the government’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) found the seamounts generated special minerals due to their location near tectonic plates.

“Cold water filters through the seabed, heats up and shoots out as hot acidic water. As this water cools, minerals containing gold, silver, copper and zinc form giant black chimneys on the sea floor. These chimneys collapse and reform, creating large mounds of metal- rich mineral deposits,” Victoria University researcher Rachel Boschen said in a statement.

“Some of the chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide and methane, support communities that exist without sunlight, instead relying on bacteria that metabolize chemicals from the hot water. Animals in such communities can’t survive away from the sites that supply these chemicals.”

The study of three seamounts along the Kermadec volcanic arc, northeast of the North Island, found that each had unique groups of animals.

It could have implications for government proposals to open up New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone to seabed mining.

“To carry out seabed mining you must have protected ‘set-aside’ areas to conserve ecologically important parts of the seabed,” Boschen said.

“But because each seamount contains unique communities, you may need to have a number of set-aside areas distributed over multiple seamounts to protect all of them.”

The results also suggested seamounts with low hydrothermal activity may support communities not found elsewhere within the region.

“Previously it was thought the protection of communities at sites where hydrothermal activity was low or had ceased was of less concern,” she said.

“But the groups of animals at these sites don’t exist elsewhere, suggesting they need to be protected as well.”

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Filed under Environmental impact, New Zealand, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea

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