Category Archives: Pacific region

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

Life operates on a completely different timescale on the deep seabed. Image: Pxhere.com

Holly Niner, Aline Jaeckel, Jeff Ardron and Lisa Levin | World Economic Forum | 8 June 2018

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.

No net loss of biodiversity: an impossible goal

Together with our co-authors, we argue in this study that biodiversity loss is unavoidable for the industry. The ecological consequences of a loss of biodiversity in the deep sea are poorly understood. For example, we do not yet understand the role that the deep sea plays in delivering essential global ecosystem services, such as climate regulation through the storage of carbon.

These largely unknown systems are a living library, much like our tropical rainforests, from which the next medical breakthroughs may be discovered. Losses of this kind could have wide-ranging and significant implications. As such, it is widely accepted that the industry should be developed in a precautionary and responsible manner.

A commonly used goal for responsible mining on land is to achieve ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity. Financial and regulatory frameworks increasingly require extractive industries to apply a four-tier mitigation hierarchy to manage impacts to biodiversity, whereby losses should be:

  1. avoided and
  2. minimised to the greatest extent possible before
  3. remediation and
  4. offsetting opportunities are explored.

But each step of this mitigation hierarchy will be very difficult to apply to deep seabed mining. Avoidance and minimization of biodiversity loss from mining (steps one and two) should be prioritized and optimized through technical innovation of the industry. Nonetheless, the extractive nature of the activity, which inevitably destroys species and habitats, means that biodiversity loss will occur at this first stage.

The third step, remediation, seeks to alleviate these residual losses at and around a mine site, and is critical to its long-term sustainability. At present, it is questionable whether remediation is feasible in the deep sea, given that many of the species have long lives and grow extremely slowly, making them unlikely to recolonize disturbed habitat in human time frames. The challenge is further increased by the enormous spatial scale of mines for some types of minerals, and the high financial costs of working in these remote and harsh environments.

Biodiversity offsetting

Biodiversity offsetting is the last resort, and most controversial stage of the mitigation hierarchy. It has been proposed as a way to address the unavoidable residual impacts of industry. In theory, biodiversity offsets provide equivalent gains in biodiversity to that lost through an activity. Creating additional deep sea biodiversity is currently problematic for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the scientific understanding needed for deep sea restoration. This knowledge and experience is not yet available, and acquiring it will be slow and costly.

Another management option could be to protect an area from existing harmful activities, such as deep sea bottom fishing, to allow for natural recovery of that area instead. But proposed mining and ongoing fishing generally target completely different ecosystems at different locations and depths. Additionally, the administration of such a ‘swap’ would be severely hampered, because there is no overarching governance institution that manages both mining and fishing on the high seas. Unlike mining, anyone can fish on the high seas, meaning that areas closed to fishing need broad international agreement in order to be meaningful. Otherwise, other states will simply step into areas that others have vacated.

A further challenge is the need to demonstrate the ‘additionality’ of an offset, meaning that it must be a conservation activity that would not have happened otherwise. For example, biodiversity loss from a deep-sea mine cannot be offset through an existing or already planned marine park. Protection of an area as an additional source of biodiversity benefit would need to demonstrate that the area protected as an offset is at risk of future degradation. This can be extremely challenging to prove, particularly in international waters. Without this assurance, purported offsetting can actually perpetuate losses of biodiversity.

Meaningful offsets would need to protect ecosystems similar to the ones harmed by mining. ‘Like for like’ offsetting is difficult in the deep sea, because many species there occur nowhere else. Consequently, ‘out of kind’ offsetting mechanisms have been proposed. These include creating dissimilar biodiversity benefits and may promote ecosystem functions and services that fundamentally differ from those that were lost. These benefits may accrue to different stakeholders and different ecosystems.

One example would be to increase the fisheries productivity in shallow water to replace deep-sea biodiversity losses. While perhaps beneficial where they occur, these ‘out of kind’ activities are not true offsets, in the sense of helping the deep-sea ecosystems under threat. They actually risk masking irreversible biodiversity loss.

Image: Frontiers in Marine Science

In our view, biodiversity offsets are not a feasible option to manage the environmental harm of deep seabed mining. No net loss of biodiversity is currently considered impossible for this industry. Accordingly, to minimize the risks posed by biodiversity losses through deep seabed mining, regulators will need to focus on the first two steps of the mitigation hierarchy: avoidance and minimization measures, including setting aside mineable areas and developing, testing and applying mining technology that minimizes impact.

Deciding on behalf of humankind

The international seabed and its mineral deposits are legally classified as the ‘common heritage of mankind’. Accordingly, the ISA is managing them on behalf of us all. Seabed minerals and their associated ecosystems form over hundreds and thousands of years. Lost deep sea biodiversity is unlikely to recover within human timescales. The actions of our generation will affect the common natural heritage of every generation to come.

In view of the above challenges, we suggest that a broad and inclusive debate is needed about how to balance the proposed economic and technological benefits of mining the deep seabed with the environmental risks it would entail. What level of environmental harm is acceptable? How will the economic benefits of seabed mining be shared with future generations? Is this a real opportunity to ‘do things right’, or will the deep sea simply be the last in a long list of exploited frontiers?

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Nautilus tests new rig but no money for further exploration

‘Once the trials are completed, Nautilus will deploy the rig on its South Pacific tenements subject to securing additional funding

Nautilus Minerals begins wet testing of new diamond drill rig

Mining Technology | 8 June 2018

Canada-based underwater resource exploration company Nautilus Minerals has started wet testing of its new seafloor diamond drill rig, which has been developed to relieve the drilling requirements of its future exploration programmes.

The move comes after the rig, which is nicknamed the Hobbit, was subjected to a series of land-based trials, focused on rod handling, functional drilling, and landing stability tests.

To be carried out over a period of two weeks, the wet test programme will expand the testing parameters to include submerged operations and mechanical endurance.

Nautilus Minerals CEO Mike Johnston said:

“According to our recently released preliminary economic assessment for Solwara 1, a single quarter’s production at steady state mining rates (around 3,200t/d) and at average Solwara deposit grades, adds around $110m in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA).

Solwara 1 is the company’s copper-gold project, which is under development in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea.

Johnston added:

“Hence forward exploration is a pivotal part of our business. Our pioneering teams are overcoming traditional functional limitations and high fees in seafloor drilling, with our new ‘Hobbit’ scout rig.”

During the testing period, the company will assess the operational functionality of the drill rig’s control systems, landing capability, hydraulic functions, video survey systems, and drilling cycle time versus performance, in a submerged environment.

Additionally, the testing will evaluate the system’s ability to sustain simulated offshore operations at optimal productivity levels.

The company’s personnel will be trained on all aspects of the equipment and operations.

The rig is designed to offer improved landing and drill cycle capabilities, as well as simplified control systems and launch and recovery requirements, which will allow deployment from cheaper vessels.

Once the trials are completed, Nautilus will deploy the rig on its South Pacific tenements subject to securing additional funding.

The company is focused on commercial-scale exploration of the seafloor for massive sulphide systems, which could potentially contain high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver.

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Canada’s Nautilus aiming to start marine mining in 2019 despite enviro concerns

Dylan Slater | Mining Weekly | 1 June 2018

Deep-sea mining is yet to become a major activity, and not much is known about undersea mineral deposits. However, some in the mining industry claim that the deep seafloor could be host to an abundant, untapped resource of highly sought-after commodities that may be relatively easy to access once machinery has been developed to operate under high pressures in submerged environments and salty water.

But environmentalists have issued strong warnings about the potential threats that could be posed to marine ecosystems and the long-lasting damage that could result from disturbing seafloors through dredging and cutting, as well as mining.

There has also been talk of would-be investors showing a reluctance – behind closed doors – to pour money into deep-sea mining projects because of the unknown feasibility of this type of activity and concern that they could potentially be deemed to be complicit in environmental degradation.

Potential sites for deep-sea mining are thought to be around large areas of polymetallic nodules or active and extinct hydrothermal vents (volcanically prevalent areas), which typically occur at depths of 1.4 km to 3.7 km below sea level. It is also believed that these vents create globular or sulphide deposits, which usually contain valuable metals such as silver, goldcopper, manganese, cobalt and zinc.

The prospect of deep-sea mining has had a patchy history, considering that one of the first major attempts to explore and mine the deep seas was a $500-million cover-up, the actual intent of which was to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear-armed submarine.

The K-129 submarine sank in 1968 about 1 400 km north-west of Hawaii, in the Pacific Ocean. The US was keen to find the submarine to obtain Soviet nuclear launch codes and other confidential information. It needed to conduct the operation under a veil of secrecy and, thus, could not simply send a salvage vessel to the area without attracting the attention of the Soviet Union.

Consequently, the US Central Intelligence Agency devised a plan – dubbed Project Azorian – to commission the Glomar Explorer as a deep-sea mining vessel targeting manganese nodules – potato-sized rocks lying on the ocean floor. In reality, the Glomar Explorer was used to lift the submarine off the ocean floor, about 4.9 km from the surface. The operation was only partially successful, as the submarine disintegrated while being lifted and only some of the nuclear missiles were recovered.

To make Project Azorian appear to be a legitimate deep-sea mining endeavour, a public relations campaign ensued in the 1970s, with a determined effort to paint it as the scheming of reclusive billionaire inventor Howard Hughes.

Few other attempts at deep-sea mining have been made, with only a handful of countries having been involved in deep-sea prospecting activities.

MAKING WAVES
One mining company that seems to be making headway as a major role-player in deep-sea mining is Canada-headquartered Nautilus Minerals.

The company is developing and commissioning deep-sea mining equipment, which it calls seafloor production tools. The tools comprise three primary pieces of equipment – an auxiliary cutter, a bulk cutter and a collecting machine.

To supplement this submerged machinery is a surface vessel, which Nautilus has labelled a production support vessel (PSV) and will be tethered to the seafloor production tools.

Nautilus Minerals CEO Mike Johnston believes that mining the seafloor will be a cost-effective and “environment  friendly” way of obtaining high-grade gold and silver.

The company launched its PSV – the Nautilus New Era – in March. The PSV was designed by SeaTech Solutions and built at Mawei Shipyard, in China, in cooperation with Mawei, Nautilus Minerals and Marine Assets Corporation. The vessel will be used by Nautilus and its partner, Eda Kopa (Solwara), a subsidiary of oilgas and minerals company Petromin PNG Holdings, at the Solwara 1 Project site, in the Bismarck Sea, off Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The PSV provides a stable platform for operations using dynamic positioning technologies to ensure it stays on location at Solwara 1, irrespective of wind and wave conditions.

Nautilus Minerals has reported that the PSV, designed for use in offshore construction and seafloor mining industries, is about 75% complete, with final delivery scheduled for March 2019.

Johnston adds that Nautilus Minerals differentiates itself from other companies by having a “first-mover advantage”, which is protected by intellectual property and 20 patents. “Once our new vessel is delivered, and subject to final funding, mining operations at water depths of 1 600 m are expected to start in late 2019.”

Nautilus Minerals announced the successful completion of submerged trials in February for its seafloor production tools in PNG, which, Johnston explains, were undertaken to ensure that all three machines met the requirements of their respective functional design specifications in submerged conditions.

“Results, to date, indicate that they do.”

The trials also assisted Nautilus Minerals in collaborating with its partner, oil and lubricants company Petromin, as well as officials from various government regulatory agencies and representatives of the provincial governments of New Ireland and East New Britain.

Community leaders from coastal villages closest to the Solwara 1 site were afforded the opportunity to witness the trials of the equipment.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
Deep-sea mining is hotly contested by environmentalists, who are concerned that irreversible, long-term damage could result from industrial-scale mining of seafloors worldwide, especially near sensitive marine environments.

According to environmental nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Greenpeace, researchers recently concluded that most mining-induced loss of biodiversity in the deep seas was “likely to last forever” in terms of human time scales, as a result of the very slow natural rates of recovery in affected ecosystems.

Another organisation opposed to the activity, the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, states that there is a high level of uncertainty about the risks that deep seabed mining poses to marine environments and communities.

The Deep Sea Mining Campaign is an association of NGOs and citizens from the Pacific islands, AustraliaCanada and the US.

The organisation notes that many countries – including Japan, China, Korea, the UK and the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and Russia – are waiting to see if Nautilus Minerals can successfully bring metals from the seafloor to smelters before “taking the plunge themselves”.

It also claims that extensive exploration licences have been applied for by various companies, covering more than 1.5-million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean floor. “In addition, exploration licences now also cover vast areas of the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.”

However, more worrying is the deep-sea mining ‘exploration frenzy’ occurring in the absence of regulatory regimes or conservation areas to protect the unique and little-known ecosystems of the deep seas, says Deep Sea Mining Campaign.

“[This] is also occurring without meaningful participation the decision-making process by the communities who will be affected by deep-sea mining.”

Further, the limited scientific research conducted to date provides no assurance that the health of coastal communities can be guaranteed and that the fisheries on which affected coastal communities depend will not be impacted on.

Three forms of deep-sea mining have attracted the attention of companies – the mining of cobalt crusts, polymetallic nodules and deposits of seafloor massive sulphides (SMS), also known as polymetallic sulphides. With high grades of zinc, copper, silver, gold, lead and rare earths, the Deep Sea Mining Campaign says it is SMS mining which is arguably the most alluring to miners.

“The mining of SMS is also likely to be the most contentious, as it will cause the greatest environmental impact,” the organisation avers.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace states that deep-sea mining could “wipe out marine species and ecosystems before we even know them”, as a result of the vast majority of the deep seas – about 50% of the earth’s oceans – being underexplored.

“Different types of seabed mining involve different extraction methods and technologies, but, whatever the approach, severe impacts can be expected. Sediment plumes, the potential release of toxic chemicals, habitat destruction, increased temperature and noise all threaten the deep sea’s precious and as-yet untouched environment,” states Greenpeace

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Plastic bag found in Mariana Trench, deepest place on Earth

A plastic bag has been found on the ocean floor in the Mariana Trench almost 11km below the sea surface.

“There is a growing concern that deep-sea ecosystems have already been and will be seriously impacted by direct exploitation of biological and non-biological resources, deep-sea trawling and mining, and infrastructure development, such as hydrocarbon plants and submarine cables,”

Michael Daly | Stuff NZ | May 11 2018

A plastic bag has been seen nearly 11km under the ocean in the Earth’s deepest feature, the Mariana Trench.

The discovery was revealed in a recently-established database that shows the deep oceans are awash with rubbish.

Set up by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) in March 2017, the database lists 3425 items of human-made debris seen in the deep sea.

The items were spotted during a total of 5010 dives made since 1983 by deep sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.

More than a third of the items were plastic, and of those, 89 per cent were single-use products, a study in Marine Policy said.

The plastic bag found in the Mariana Trench was at a depth of 10,898 metres. That’s not far from the very bottom, which scientists revealed to be 10,994m in a 2011 survey, The Telegraph reported

“The data shows that …  the influence of land-based human activities has reached the deepest parts of the ocean in areas more than 1000km from the mainland,” the study said.

The items reported in the database mostly came from the western North Pacific Ocean.

Metal debris was the second most common of the items seen on the dives at 26 per cent, rubber accounted for 1.8 per cent, fishing gear for 1.7 per cent, glass for 1.4 per cent, cloth/paper/lumber for1.3 per cent, and other anthropogenic items accounted for 35 per cent.

Most of the debris was seen at depths of 1000-2000 metres, but that was also the depth of most of the dives in the database. The ratio of plastic to other debris increased with depth, getting to 52 per cent below 6000m.

“There is a growing concern that deep-sea ecosystems have already been and will be seriously impacted by direct exploitation of biological and non-biological resources, deep-sea trawling and mining, and infrastructure development, such as hydrocarbon plants and submarine cables,” the study said.

“In addition to those direct impacts, the observed distribution of plastic debris clearly indicates that land-based human activities have also been affecting deep-sea ecosystems.”

Researchers speculated organisms could hitch-hike on plastic bags from shallow waters to the deeper ocean. “This stepping stone effect may alter the food web and biogeo-chemical function of the deep sea ecosystems,” they said.

Deep sea anemones had been seen on plastic bags on the muddy sea floor during several dives. “Because those animals need hard substrates to attach to and thus cannot inhabit soft bottoms, deep-sea plastic debris possibly plays the role of a stepping stone for sessile animals to expand their original distribution.”

The database only showed information of the sea floor, and most of the areas covered were within countries’ exclusive economic zones, the study said.

“However, as the deep sea is likely to be the final destination of floating plastic debris, the frequent occurrence and widespread distribution of plastic debris in the deep sea, far away from populated coastal areas, indicate that large numbers of plastic debris pieces are distributed throughout the water column and in the high seas.”

The study indicated “a clear link between daily human activities and remote environments where no direct human activities occur”.

“Plastic is estimated to potentially remain for hundreds to thousands of years once they are deposited in the deep sea where there is no UV light and less turbulence,” the authors said.

“Minimising the production of plastic waste and its flow into the coastal areas and the ocean is the only fundamental solution to the problem of deep-sea plastic pollution.”

The authors called for biologically and ecologically important areas with high plastic debris concentrations to be prioritised in future studies. They also wanted priority to be given to working out where the plastic getting to those areas came from.

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Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary Approach to Seabed Mining

Harvard Environmental Law Review Calls For Precautionary New Legal Standards

Post Courier | April 17, 2018

Today, the Harvard Environmental Law Review published an article entitled, “Broadening Common Heritage: Addressing Gaps in the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime.” The article provides a new perspective on the incipient global industry of seabed mining, heralded as the next extractive frontier despite growing concerns and opposition from civil society, scientific experts, and indigenous groups worldwide.

“Deep sea mining has been framed by proponents as a lucrative mineral windfall with minimal impacts,” says author Julie Hunter, attorney and Clinic Fellow at the University of British Columbia. “This narrative entirely disregards recent scientific information linking the deep seabed with major climate regulation and biodiversity functions. Destroying these ecosystems before more can be learned about them not only risks major health and fisheries impacts – it could completely upend global climate change efforts.”

The article provides a brief overview of the so-called ‘gold-rush’ for seabed minerals, in which countries and companies have scrambled to buy up licenses for seabed exploration covering millions of square kilometers of ocean, before environmental and regulatory standards have even been drafted. With Japan becoming the first country to successfully mine its deep seabed in 2017, and Canadian company Nautilus Minerals scheduled to begin the world’s first commercial operation in Papua New Guinea’s waters in 2019, deep sea mining is rapidly becoming a reality.

However, the risks of operating in an unknown environment less documented than Mars are starting to become apparent. In 2016, a consortium of scientists and oceanographers released a study detailing the critical carbon sequestration functions of deep sea hydrothermal vents and methane seeps. Combined with other studies establishing irreversible impacts from seabed mining, these findings trigger a body of protective environmental and human rights law, including the precautionary principle and the need to obtain free, prior, and informed consent from indigenous and other affected peoples.

“Pacific Islanders have already suffered negative consequences as a result of mere exploratory mining in the region,” says author Julian Aguon, attorney and founder of Blue Ocean Law—a law firm that works throughout the Pacific region to defend and advance the rights of colonized and indigenous peoples. “Our work has documented impacts to fisheries and traditional customs in coastal communities in Papua New Guinea, Tonga and elsewhere, and the disconcerting absence of true and meaningful consultation with affected groups.”

Other acknowledged impacts of deep sea mining include contamination of the water column and fisheries by tailings and heavy metals, species extinction, coral reef acidification, carbon emissions from onshore mineral processing, and increased risk of oil spills and surface accidents, among others.

Given the unique biodiversity, genetic, and biomedical properties of deep sea ecosystems, not to mention their potentially critical role in climate regulation, the so-called “common heritage” of the seabed extends far beyond the value of its minerals. “It would be tragically ironic if, in our rush to obtain minerals for use in green tech and renewable energies, we end up bulldozing the most important climate regulator of our planet,” says Hunter. “That possibility alone merits a cautious approach.”

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Seabed mining opposition is pro-development says Church

Carolyn Ure | PNG Loop | April 10, 2018  

While the Catholic Church in the Oceania Region has joined the global fight against seabed mining and climate change, the Church is in no way opposing development.

These were the words of Bishop Charles Drennan from New Zealand.

He is part of the 80-man delegation that is in the country to attend the Assembly of Federation of Catholic Bishops Conference Oceania.

The vast ocean is the common home of countries and people in the Oceania Region. The sub-theme; “A Sea of Possibilities”, captures the interdependency between the ocean and the people.

“The land and the sea depend so much on each other and therefore for the well-being of us and the future generations,” said Bishop Charles.

A sea of possibilities is a hopeful statement, the Bishop pointed out.

While the negative impacts of deep seabed and other marine industries are evident, Churches also recognise and understand their significance.

“Perhaps the Church, NGOs and aid agencies are somehow against development and business. But we also care very much for people’s employment.”

In light of this, the ocean has great rich potential as a means of growing responsible tourism and fishing industries.

“We want families to be satisfied in their jobs, we want parents to look at their children and say there are employment opportunities for them,” Bishop Charles further stated.

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Deep sea mining decisions: Approaching the point of no return

Sulfide chimneys coated with iron-based microbial mat at Urashima Vent. Deep sea hydrothermal vents like these are targeted for mining. Picture: NOAA / Flickr

Sebastian Losada and Pierre Terras* | The Vanuatu Independent |  March 28, 2018

OVER the last two weeks, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has been in discussions in Jamaica. Its mission – to work towards the finalisation of exploitation regulations, a so-called mining code that will allow commercial deep sea mining operations to begin all around the world.

The coming two years are critical in the opening – or not – of this unnecessary new frontier of resource exploitation.  The deep sea covers around fifty per cent of the Earth’s oceans and a great share of that is in international waters. Hidden under thousands of metres of water, the vast majority of it hasn’t been explored, meaning deep seabed mining could wipe out species and ecosystems before we even know them.

The ISA regulates the sea floor outside nations’ jurisdiction. It has to decide what the rules are: how much money will go to developing countries and their communities, what kind of environmental controls there will be. And, right now, decisions that could impact the earth’s seabed forever are being made in Jamaica; ushered through under pressure from industry and mining advocates with a decided lack of transparency.

A rocky outcropping with a prowfish skate corals and seastars as viewed by a manned deep submersible at approximately 1000′ deep in the Bering Sea. Picture: Greenpeace / John Hocevar

Advocates of ocean exploitation, like US giant military company Lockheed Martin, argue that we need deep sea mining in order to meet ‘the growing global demand for precious metals’ and to support ‘economic growth’.

They also claim that deep sea mining is necessary to satisfy our endless thirst for technological and electronic innovation, conveniently ignoring many aspects of the problem.

“Are we going to continue to develop huge mines that destroy villages, alter rivers, pollute water courses, take thousands of years to restore, remove whole mountains? You don’t have any of that with deep seabed mining,” said ISA Secretary General, Michael Lodge, recently.

While it’s true that mining for essential and finite raw materials often endangers workers and leaves the Earth irreversibly scarred, the solution is not – and cannot be – to translate these mining impacts to other ecosystems that provide crucial services to humanity and our climate.  Doing so would not only result in potentially irreversible biodiversity losses, but would also send a completely wrong signal: that we do not need to improve efficiency and reduce resource use because there is plenty down there.

Why is it that the IT sector, and its current leaders such as Samsung and Apple, can show the ingenuity to develop technologies that allow us to do things we could only have dreamed of a decade ago, but do not put such ingenuity to the service of a truly sustainable economy within the boundaries of the planet?

Instead, in the race to gain market share, IT companies increasingly change the design of their products in a way that accelerates the replacement cycle, making them difficult to service, upgrade or repair and shortening their useful life.

Greenpeace protests outside the Palau de Congresos de Cataluña (Catalunya Palace of Congress) during the presentation of Samsung ahead of the Mobile World Congress to ask Samsung for a compromise to recycle the 4,2 million of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices that were defective.

Mining advocates also argue that we need the minerals to meet increased demand from the growth of renewable energy technologies and the electrification of transport.

But there is no evidence that a transition towards renewable energy necessitates mining in the deep ocean. On the contrary; a recent report by the the Institute for Sustainable Futures found that:

“Even with the projected very high demand growth rates under the most ambitious energy scenarios, the projected increase in cumulative demand – all within the range of known terrestrial resources – does not require deep-sea mining activity.”

Different types of seabed mining involve different extraction methods and technologies, but whatever the approach severe impacts can be expected. Sediment plumes, the potential release of toxic chemicals, habitat destruction, increased temperature and noise all threaten the deep sea’s precious and as yet untouched environment.

Researchers recently concluded that most mining-induced loss of biodiversity in the deep sea is likely to last forever on human timescales, given the very slow natural rates of recovery in affected ecosystems.

A dense field of whip coral (Viminella flagellum) found at 250 -300 meters in the Azores captured with the use of a specialised underwater camera. Picture: Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

Yet the ISA has recently rejected the establishment of an environmental committee to better include environmental considerations in its functioning, and key environmental information is not public. It’s Legal and Technical Commission meets mostly behind closed doors, and its composition is such that biological and ecological considerations are underrepresented.

Despite all the arguments against this unnecessary pillaging of planet’s seabed, so far the ISA has approved 28 exploration contracts in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans – covering more than 1.4 million square kilometers, roughly four times the size of Germany – to companies like Lockheed Martin.

And in the meantime, the first commercial test case for the deep seabed mining industry is already planned to take place in the waters of Papua New Guinea. Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to extract mineral-rich sulfides, containing copper, zinc and gold, at depths between 1,500 and 2,000m. The mining operation, known as the Solwara project, is scheduled to begin early in 2019.

A strong alliance of NGOs made of over 20 communities in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas is fighting to stop the project. Arguing a lack of consultation, and drawing attention to the grave impacts that could be derived from the project, the local opposition is growing stronger while the company is facing potential financial troubles.

The European Union Parliament has recently agreed on a resolution on international oceans governance, which calls for a moratorium on seabed mining.

In an effort to push back against the plunder, almost 800,000 thousand people have called on the ISA and its member parties to agree to the moratorium.

While opposition is mounting, alternative economic models are gaining momentum and people are increasingly aware of what’s at stake, for the sake of the oceans, the planet and the people, it’s urgent we stand to prevent commercial deep sea mining, before it’s too late.

* Sebastian Losada is Oceans policy adviser for Greenpeace International, and Pierre Terras is an Oceans campaigner for Greenpeace International

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