Tag Archives: Greenpeace

Deep-sea mining risks ‘irreversible’ harm, warns Greenpeace

A subsea mining machine under construction © Reuters

Campaign group intervenes over UK exploration licences for Lockheed Martin

Henry Sanderson| Financial Times | 3 July 2019

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, the campaigning group, 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, said Greenpeace.

David Cameron promised as prime minister in 2013 that deep-sea mining would generate £40bn for the UK economy over the next 30 years. But Greenpeace said it is unclear what this figure includes.

It pointed out that in 2017 the government’s deep-sea mining working group was shown a report by the National Subsea Research Initiative, a research body, warning of the environmental impact on the seabed.

“The activities involved in subsea mining could have detrimental impacts on localised populations as well as an impact on world oceans through the potential extinction of unique species which form the first rung of the food chain,” said the report, which was commissioned by Scottish Enterprise and seen by Greenpeace through a Freedom of Information request.

The UN-backed International Seabed Authority, which regulates all mineral activities in international waters, has given countries, including the UK, 29 licences to explore the oceans, covering an area of 1.3m sq km, or five times the surface area of Britain. But mining cannot begin until regulations, currently being negotiated, are agreed. The ISA expects to have finished them by July 2020.

The UK government in 2013 granted Seabed Resources, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the rights to explore 133,000 sq km of the ocean it had received from the ISA. Seabed Resources said it was waiting for the regulations to be approved before assessing the viability of mining at the sites.

Daniel Jones, a principal researcher at the National Oceanography Center, said scientists still do not know enough about life in the deep sea compared to life on land.

“We are finding out a lot more but we can’t answer how organisms will respond to disturbance from deep-sea mining without doing experimentation on the sea floor,” he said. “We are missing quite important information.”

A spokesman for the UK government said: “The UK continues to press for the highest international environmental standards, including on deep-sea mineral extraction. We have sponsored two exploration licences, which allows scientific marine research to fully understand the effects of deep-sea mining. We will not issue a single exploitation licence without a full assessment of the environmental impact.”

Deep-sea mining has had a chequered history. The first company to try to mine the deep sea, Nautilus Minerals, was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange in March after financial difficulties. The company had planned to mine around Papua New Guinea.

But last month Deep Green, a deep-sea mining start-up, said it had raised the bulk of the $150m it needed to press ahead with plans to collect mineral-rich nodules from the floor of the Pacific for metals such nickel and cobalt used in electric-car batteries. The company is backed by miner Glencore as well as shipping giant Maersk.

DeepGreen said “it is built with a deep appreciation and respect for ocean health and the earth’s environment”.

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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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Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

Relatively little is known about deep-sea ecosystems

University of Exeter | PHYS.ORG | January 22, 2018

Mining on the ocean floor could do irreversible damage to deep-sea ecosystems, says a new study of seabed mining proposals around the world.

The deep sea (depths below 200m) covers about half of the Earth’s surface and is home to a vast range of species.

Little is known about these environments, and researchers from the University of Exeter and Greenpeace say mining could have “long-lasting and unforeseen consequences”– not just at mining sites but also across much larger areas.

The study is the first to give a global overview of all current plans to mine the seabed, in both national and international waters, and looks at the potential impacts including physical destruction of seabed habitats, creation of large underwater plumes of sediment and the effects of chemical, noise and light pollution arising from mining operations.

“Our knowledge of these ecosystems is still limited, but we know they’re very sensitive,” said Dr. David Santillo, a marine biologist and senior Greenpeace scientist based at the University of Exeter.

“Recovery from man-made disturbance could take decades, centuries or even millennia, if these ecosystems recover at all.”

“As we learn more about deep sea ecosystems and the role of oceans in mitigating climate change, it seems wise to take precautions to avoid damage that could have long-lasting and unforeseen consequences.”

Despite the term “mining”, much seabed mining would involve extraction of minerals over very wide areas of the sea floor rather than digging down to any great depth, potentially leaving a vast ‘footprint’ on the deep-sea habitats in which these mineral deposits occur.

Rising demand for minerals and metals, including for use in new technology, has sparked renewed interest in seabed mining.

Some operations are already taking place, generally at relatively shallow depths near national coastlines.

The first commercial enterprise in deeper waters, expected to target mineral-rich sulphides at depths of 1.5-2km off Papua New Guinea, is scheduled to begin early in 2019.

Speaking about these plans last year, Sir David Attenborough said it was “tragic that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences”.

The Exeter and Greenpeace research team say there are “many questions and uncertainties” around seabed mining, including legal issues and the difficulties of predicting the scale and extent of impacts in advance, and of monitoring and regulating mining activity once it takes place in the deep sea.

The paper says that alternatives to seabed mining have already been proposed, including substituting metals in short supply for more abundant minerals with similar properties, as well as more effective collection and recycling of components from disused products and wastes.

However, Dr. Santillo said demand for seabed mining would also diminish if humanity could cut overproduction and overconsumption of consumer goods.

“Rather than using human ingenuity to invent more and more consumer products that we don’t actually need, we could deploy it instead to build goods that last longer, are easier to repair and make better use of the limited natural resources we have,” he said.

“With the right approaches, we can avoid the need for seabed mining altogether and stop the ‘race to the bottom’.

“As governments prepare to set the rules and the first companies gear up to mine, now is the time to ask whether we just have to accept seabed mining, or should instead decide that the potential damage is just so great that we really need to find less destructive alternatives.”

The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, is titled “An overview of seabed mining including the current state of development, environmental impacts, and knowledge gaps.” It is an open-access publication accessible to readers anywhere in the world.

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Pacific Solution Exchange discusses Deep Sea Mining

United Nations | PACNEWS 

The deep sea a place mostly undiscovered and unregulated, is now facing large-scale industrial exploitation as mining of the deep seabed for minerals becomes a reality.

The knowledge-sharing forum, Pacific Solution Exchange is hosting an e-discussion across the Pacific on the potential trans-boundary environmental impacts given that deep sea mining operations may happen soon within sovereign Exclusive Economic Zones.

Prompting the Pacific-wide discussion is Pacific Political Advisor for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Ms Seni Nabou.

“As terrestrial minerals become depleted and prices rise, the search for new sources of supply is turning to the sea floor and many non-governmental organisations remain concerned at the haste in which exploration and mining is taking place,” Nabou said. “While harvesting these resources could provide a much-needed economic boost to many Pacific Island countries, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and a coalition of Pacific Regional Non-Governmental Organisations are concerned about the rush to deep seabed mining and have called for a halt to it in the Pacific region.”   Nabou explained, “This emerging industry, facilitated greatly by advances in technology, poses a major threat to our oceans, which are already suffering from a number of pressures including overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change.”

The discussion has received contributions from researchers, scientists, government officials, practitioners and experts from the Pacific and other parts of the world that have shared their thoughts on the environmental implications of deep sea mining.

Some commentators expressed concern about the potential impacts on species dependent on hydrothermal vents, where one type of seabed minerals is found. The need for better understanding about possible impacts of sediment plumes on marine life was also highlighted.

Deep Sea Minerals Project Legal Adviser from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Hannah Lily shared that deep sea environments have hardly been studied. She stated that there are different types of deep sea mineral deposits, each with different biological environments, and the extraction techniques will vary between types. It is therefore difficult to predict impacts without knowing the specific technicalities of the proposed operations and details of a specific site.

Lily noted that in some cases “Scientists predict the direct impacts of seabed mining are likely to be localised to the mining site, due to the high pressure and low current in the deep ocean, which will restrict sediment dispersal.”

She added, “If this is correct, then direct trans-boundary impacts may be considered unlikely, unless perhaps a mining site is allocated right next to a boundary and risk of dispute over mineral rights may well pre-empt that, but the probability of indirect impacts bears further investigation.”

A few members shared the view that mining can be done but in a safe manner with strict limits of damage to the environment and major penalties for breaches.

Others are critical of the fact that very little is known about what lies deep within the ocean and therefore prefer it untouched because the consequences are unclear.

The discussion continues until 4 October 2013, with people invited to join for free the Pacific Solution Exchange (PSE) community if they want to become part of the conversation.

PSE is an email-based knowledge sharing service that enables people across the Pacific to ask each other queries and share answers, insights, experiences and lessons learned to help each other in their climate change and disaster risk work. It has over 1500 members including practitioners, students, government, concerned elders, and community members in remote islands. PSE is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre with support from Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).United

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Greenpeace calls for halt in granting of deep seabed mining licences

ABC News

Environmental organisation Greenpeace International has called for a suspension in the granting of deep seabed mining licences.

A new report from the organisation has found that deep seabed mining could have a serious impact on the ocean environment and on the livelihood of coastal communities.

“We have some traditional medicines found in that sea area and as soon as explorations started, the communities began to see that this traditional medicine in the sea was eroding,” Seni Nabou, the political advisor for Greenpeace in Fiji, told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

Ms Nabou says a license has already been granted for deep seabed mining in Papua New Guinean waters.

She says a lot more work needs to be done to protect the world’s oceans before companies should be allowed to start operating.

“We don’t believe that seabed mining applications should be granted,” Ms Nabou said.

“Environmental impact assessments are not priority prior to any of this exploration taking place, nor are they being made public.

“No exploration or exploitation should take place unless or until the full range of marine habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are adequately protected.”

Ms Nabou says many of the habitats on the deep sea floor are yet to be studied by scientists.

“The habitats are dark, previously thought to be lifeless by scientists, but we know now that this is not true,” she said.

“There are still too many unknowns out there, which is why we are joining the Pacific Conference of Churches…in calling for a moratorium on these applications until we know more.”

Ms Nabou says she wants a network of marine reserves to be set up in 40 per cent of the world’s oceans, where no extractive activities can take place.

“We particularly want to see rules to ensure that environmental and cumulative impacts of seabed mining as well as potential impacts, alternative uses and livelihoods have been thoroughly assessed,” she said.

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Experimental seabed mining: An urgent wake-up call to protect our oceans

Greenpeace

Deep Seabed Mining ReportThe deep sea is a place of myth and mystery, filled with weird and wonderful life forms, and vital to the survival of our planet. But now, this mostly unknown world is facing large-scale industrial exploitation – as mining of the deep seabed for minerals fast becomes reality.

As land-based minerals become depleted and prices rise, the search for new sources of supply is turning to the sea floor. This emerging industry, facilitated by advances in technology, poses a major threat to our oceans, which are already suffering from a number of pressures including overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change.

The remote deep and open oceans host a major part of the world’s biodiversity, and are vital for our survival on Earth. The deep sea plays an important role in regulating planetary processes, including regulation of temperature and greenhouse gases. It supports ocean life by cycling nutrients and providing habitat for a staggering array of species.
Deep seabed mining could have serious impacts on the ocean environment and the future livelihoods and wellbeing of coastal communities. Only 3% of the oceans are protected and less than 1% of the high seas, making them some of the least protected places on Earth. The emerging threat of seabed mining is an urgent wake-up call.

Greenpeace demands that no seabed mining applications are granted, and that no exploration or exploitation takes place, unless and until the full range of marine habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are adequately protected. Governments and industries seeking to exploit the oceans must recognise that with rights come responsibilities. Putting sustainability first and adopting a precautionary approach to any seabed mining development is the only way to ensure that the oceans – a vital part of the life support system of our planet – continue to provide essential ecosystem services and resources now and in the future.

The oceans hang in the balance. There is no more time to waste. On top of a number of other existing threats, our oceans could face the potentially devastating impacts of deep seabed mining by 2016. All countries in favour of high seas protection must now join forces and act together for healthy oceans and the millions of people that depend on them.

Download Deep Seabed Mining Report (1.1MB)

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