Seabed Mining Regulations Need Stronger Environmental Protections

“This sort of large-scale industrial mining on our ocean floors is inherently destructive, so we need to do all we can to protect sea life from its impacts,”

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Centre for Biological Diversity

Scientists and conservationists are calling on the International Seabed Authority, now meeting in Jamaica, to adopt stronger-than-proposed protections for wildlife and oceans in setting environmental standards for deep-sea mining projects. The Center for Biological Diversity, which recently sued the United States government for issuing deep-sea mining permits that circumvent the ISA’s nascent environmental review process, warns that the current push to start strip-mining the ocean floor could do irreparable damage to marine life.

“Big corporations are rushing to mine our deep seas before scientists fully understand these mysterious ecosystems or how to protect them. We need to slow this process down and do whatever we can to shield them from the new gold rush,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center.

“And we don’t think the United States should be defying the international system and breaking its own environmental laws to permit deep-sea mining.”

In May the Center sued the U.S. government for issuing exploratory permits to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary for mining work in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone halfway between Mexico and Hawaii. That claim is independent of the ISA, which includes the 161 nations that have adopted the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Also in May the Center submitted comments to the ISA on the development of its regulatory process, supporting proposals by the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative to establish an independent review board and to broaden the ISA’s focus on individual projects to take into account regional and cumulative impacts. In addition the Center urged the ISA to improve its public noticing and comment procedures and to deny applications that involve significant environment impacts. Meanwhile the Center for Ocean Solutions published a study in the July 9 issue of Science calling for the ISA to create marine-protected areas in international waters where mining would be banned, a proposal the Center also supports.

“This sort of large-scale industrial mining on our ocean floors is inherently destructive, so we need to do all we can to protect sea life from its impacts,” Sakashita said.

The deep ocean is believed to contain billions of dollars worth of nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, gold and other rare-earth metals and minerals. Extracting those materials has been considered too expensive, difficult and risky for investors in the past, but technological advances and skyrocketing prices for these materials have led to a strong push by the mining industry. The ISA has issued 26 exploratory mining permits in international waters, and another project permitted by Papua New Guinea in its territorial waters, Solwara I, could soon become an active commercial mining operation. The ISA’s 21st annual session in Jamaica began July 14 and ends July 24.

Learn more and read about the Center’s lawsuit at www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/deep-sea_mining/

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Filed under Environmental impact, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea

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