Tag Archives: Nautilus

NOC: Environmental Impact of Deep-Sea Mining can Last Decades

Unique deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems that harbour chemosynthetic life forms such as giant tubeworms. Active mining of vents would destroy these rare ecosystems (Image: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)

Maritime Executive | 30 May 2019

A new study shows that the impacts of seabed mining on deep-sea ecosystems can persist for decades. 

Scientists at the U.K.’s National Oceanography Centre (NOC) revisited a site exposed to deep-sea mining activity nearly 30 years previously to assess seabed and ecosystem recovery. They used a robot submarine to map and photograph much of the seafloor in the disturbed area in unprecedented detail. The images were combined into a seafloor photo-mosaic completely covering 11 hectares of seabed, the largest ever photo-mosaic obtained in the abyssal ocean. Tracks on the seafloor caused by the simulated mining were still clearly visible, and the impacts on marine life initially observed in 1989 persist.  

The study, recently published in Scientific Reports, was able to pinpoint individual animals over a wide area and relate their abundance and distribution to the tracks. While mobile species, such as sea cucumbers and sea stars, were able to recolonize impacted areas, many animals, such as sponges and sea anemones, live attached to the seafloor and remained virtually absent from directly disturbed seabed. Given the important role of these animals in abyssal ecosystems, the results of the study suggest that impacts of large-scale commercial mining could potentially lead to an irreversible loss of key ecosystem functions, says the NOC.

The target of this type of deep-sea mining is polymetallic nodules, potato-shaped rocks rich in copper and manganese. These nodules provide a stable anchoring point for the development of anemones, soft corals and sponges, and promote the development of diverse communities on otherwise muddy seabed. The nodules take millions of years to form. Removal or burial of nodules from mining activities will remove the home of many of these filter-feeding animals, constraining their capacity to recolonize impacted zones and further delaying ecosystem recovery processes. 

The site investigated lies in the deep Pacific Ocean off Peru at around 4,000 meters water depth. It was disturbed as an experiment in 1989 by a team of German researchers. This is still to date the largest disturbance experiment carried out in an abyssal environment. 

The study is the result of a collaboration between the NOC and the GEOMAR institute in Kiel (Germany) funded by the European Union Joint Programming Initiative (JPI-Oceans), an international project aiming to assess the ecological aspects of deep-sea mining. The NOC is working with the U.K. Government and the International Seabed Authority to inform developing regulations regarding deep-sea mining.

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Fisheries and environmental organizations issue joint call for moratorium on #DeepSeaMining

EU Reporter | May 29, 2019

Seas At Risk and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) welcome the call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining in international waters by the Long Distance Fleet Advisory Council (LDAC) of the European Union. In calling for a moratorium, the LDAC highlighted concerns by scientists, the fishing industry and environmental organisations over the potentially severe impacts on fisheries, fish and other species in the oceans and inevitable loss of marine biodiversity from deep-sea mining. The Executive Committee of the LDAC adopted the advice to the European Commission and member states at its meeting in Poland last week and have publicly released.

The International Seabed Authority, an intergovernmental organization established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, is in the process of developing regulations that would permit mining the international areas of the deep ocean seabed.

Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, said: “Fishing industry representatives and NGOs in Europe are jointly raising concern with EU member states and the international community over the prospect of deep-sea mining and its likely impacts on fisheries and the marine environment. Scientists have warned that biodiversity loss will be inevitable and likely permanent on human timescales if the International Seabed Authority begins issuing licenses to mine the deep ocean seabed for metals such as copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese.”

The LDAC recommended that no deep seabed mining in the international areas of the ocean seabed under the jurisdiction of the International Seabed Authority should be permitted until:

  • The risks to the marine environment are fully assessed and understood;
  • a clear case can be made deep-sea mining is necessary and not simply profitable for companies or countries that want to mine, and;
  • international commitments to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, strengthen the resilience of marine ecosystems, and initiatives to transition to circular economies, sustainable methods of consumption and production and related efforts as called for the in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda are recognized.

The LDAC further called on the European Commission and member states to stop funding, facilitating or promoting the development of deep-sea mining and deep-sea mining technology.

Seas At Risk Deputy Director Ann Dom said: “We count on the EU member states to take to heart the call for a moratorium by the European Parliament and the fisheries sector, and to put it firmly on the agenda of the upcoming annual session of the International Seabed Authority.”

The LDAC endorsed a European Parliament resolution adopted in 2018 which also called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining and reform of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). In January of this year, echoing similar concerns, the UK House of Commons Environment Audit Committee released a report stating that deep-sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on the seafloor” and that the ISA stands to benefit from revenues from issuing mining licenses which the Committee viewed as “a clear conflict of interest”. 

John Tanzer, leader, Oceans Practice, WWF International, said: “A moratorium on seabed mining – given its inherent risks and how little is known about life on the sea floor – is just plain common sense, and particularly in light of recent global biodiversity assessments showing the planet is suffering unprecedented species loss that will have profound impacts on nature and humanity at large.”

The Long Distance Fleet Advisory Council (LDAC) is an EU fisheries body representing stakeholders of both the fishing sector (including catching, processing and marketing sectors, and trade unions), and other groups of interest (environmental NGOs, consumers and civil society). Several DSCC member organizations, including Seas At Risk, WWF, Oceana, Bloom Association, are members of the LDAC.

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Scientists fear impact of deep-sea mining on search for new medicines

Microbes from deep-sea sponges could be a breakthrough in the fight against superbugs. Photograph: Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Bacteria from the ocean floor can beat superbugs and cancer. But habitats are at risk from the hunger for marine minerals.

“On deep sea vents, scientists are clear – we don’t want mining on them. There are thousands of species of deep-sea animals living there and new species are being discovered all the time.”

Karen McVeigh | The Guardian | 20 May 2019 

When Prof Mat Upton discovered a microbe from a deep-sea sponge was killing pathogenic bugs in his laboratory, he realised it could be a breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistant superbugs, which are responsible for thousands of deaths a year in the UK alone.

Further tests last year confirmed that an antibiotic from the sponge bacteria, found living more than 700 metres under the sea at the Rockall trough in the north-east Atlantic, was previously unknown to science, boosting its potential as a life-saving medicine.

But Upton, and other scientists who view the deep ocean and its wealth of unique and undocumented species as a prospecting ground for new medicines, fear such potential will be lost in the rush to exploit the deep sea’s equally rich metal and mineral resources.

“We’re looking at the bioactive potential of marine resources, to see if there are any more medicines or drugs down there before we destroy it for ever,” says Upton, a medical microbiologist at the University of Plymouth. He is among many scientists urging a halt to deep-sea mining, asking for time to weigh up the pros and cons.

“We know sponges are a very good source of bioactive bacteria so I would say they would be a good source of antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs too. In sustainability terms, this could be a better way of exploiting the economic potential of the deep sea.”

Oceanographers using remotely operated vehicles have spotted many new species. Among them have been sea cucumbers with tails allowing them to sail along the ocean floor, and a rare “Dumbo” octopus, found 3,000 metres under the Pacific, off the coast of California.

Upton estimates it could take up to a decade for a newly discovered antibiotic to become a medicine – but the race towards commercial mining in the ocean abyss has already begun.

The deep sea, more than half the world’s surface, contains more nickel, cobalt and rare earth metals than all land reserves combined, according to the US Geological Survey. Mining corporations argue that deep-sea exploration could help diversify the supply of metals, including cobalt for electric car batteries, presently mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where child labour is common. Demand for copper, aluminium, cobalt and other metals, to power technology and smartphones, is soaring.

So far, 29 licences for exploration activities have been granted by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, to promote and regulate deep-sea mining. No commercial exploitation licences have been granted yet, but one firm, Global Sea Mineral Resources, has said it needs regulations in place by next year to start mining in 2026.

Last week the ISA’s legal and technical commission gathered in Pretoria, South Africa, for a workshop to develop environmental standards for a draft mining code, which will create the framework for exploitation. Michael Lodge, the organisation’s secretary general, has promised regulations will be finalised by 2020.

But many fear this is moving too fast. Mining could devastate fragile ecosystems that are slow to recover in the highly pressurised darkness of the deep sea, as well as having knock-on effects on the wider ocean environment. Critics have called for a 10-year ban on commercial mining.

Kristina Gjerde, a high seas policy specialist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is deeply concerned over the lack of environmental protections in the draft code. “We’re just blindly going into the dark, adjusting any impacts on the way,” says Gjerde. “We have no assurances, no evidence that they can avoid serious harm.”

A cross-party group of MPs wrote in January that deep-sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts” on habitats and species and concluded that the case for such activity had not yet been made.

A study published in January found that soft sediment in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the mid-Pacific, where most exploration licences have been granted, could take up to 10 times longer to resettle than previously thought, meaning sediment is likely to travel farther in the water column before it resettles, affecting marine life over a much larger area.

Dr Kerry Howell, a colleague of Upton’s at the University of Plymouth, is working on a model to try to predict where on the sea bed important species such as Upton’s sponge lie. “We don’t have all the information we need” says Howell, a deep-sea ecologist. “Our project will look at which species might be important and which may be impacted by mining. If the models work, we will know where they are and we will know what they can do, and we can make decisions about whether mining can go ahead.”

Her work is part of a £20m five-year programme, funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund. “We are writing regulations in a severe absence of knowledge of the ecosystem,” she warns.

Howell also receives funding, for separate research, from a deep-sea mining company, UK Seabed Resources, which is a subsidiary of the UK branch of the US aerospace and defence company Lockheed Martin. This is also important work, she acknowledges, but scientists simply do not know enough yet.

“Most deep-sea scientists are concerned at the speed at which the development of regulations is happening,” says Howell.

Britain’s partnership with UK Seabed Resources holds licences to explore a total of 133,000 sq km of the Pacific sea floor, more than any government apart from China, according to analysis by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative arm. The licences are in the CCZ, the site of one of the world’s largest untapped collections of high-value metal ores. The area contains trillions of potato-sized black lumps called polymetallic nodules, containing cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese.

Dr Jon Copley, associate professor at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and a contributor to the BBC’s Blue Planet II series on marine life, is studying hydrothermal vents. Formed when seawater meets magma, and the sites of massive sulphide deposits, these vents are one of three different resources of the deep sea being administered by the ISA.

“On deep sea vents, scientists are clear – we don’t want mining on them,” he says. “There are thousands of species of deep-sea animals living there and new species are being discovered all the time.”

Roughly 400 new species have been found at active hydrothermal vents since 1977.

Copley believes science has moved on since the ISA, whose members are parties to the 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, began its work in 1994. He questions whether the agency is fit for purpose, when part of its mandate is to promote seabed resources “for the benefit of mankind”.

“The ISA was set up on a false premise – that there is a vast wealth down there that could be used to address social injustice. But it is quite possible the enterprise will increase the gap between rich and poor. At what point do we say: ‘Hang on, is this a good idea?’

“I can understand why the ISA doesn’t want to scare off investors by being heavy-handed on environmental protections. They have to deliver the benefits to the developing world. They have to be very careful.”

Environmentalists point to last year’s designation of the “Lost City”, an area under the Atlantic and one of the world’s most important sites of scientific interest, as part of a mining exploration zone, and are sceptical of the ISA’s environmental credentials.

Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, says that the deep sea is comparable to rainforests in terms of carbon sinks, which are vital in combating climate breakdown. Casson says: “We haven’t heard any reassurances from mining companies or the ISA about how they might handle this potential risk. Last year, the ISA granted Poland an exploration licence in an area highlighted by Unesco. Right now, it seems to be serving the interests of the companies.”

The ISA has said there was no suggestion Poland was going to mine in this area and that part of the exploration licence was to conduct environmental studies.

In a statement to the Guardian, Lodge says that, where mining activities are concerned, the ISA is taking “all necessary measures” under the UN convention on the law of the sea “to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment, including marine biodiversity, from harmful effects”.

“An extremely important part of ISA’s mandate is ensuring appropriate environmental assessments and safeguards in the activities it regulates,” he says. “No seabed mining will take place until such elements have been agreed by all 168 member states.”

Lodge says the money the ISA receives from proposed royalties or other finances will be shared for the benefit of member states, particularly taking into account the needs of those that are “least developed and landlocked”.

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Magnitude 7.5 quake alongside proposed Solwara 1 mining site

The epicentre of the magnitude 7.5 earthquake was south of Namatanai

The centre of the quake was just a few kilometres from the proposed mine location

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PM Labels Solwara Venture As A Wasted Investment

Post Courier | May 8, 2019

In yesterday’s heated exchange of words and debate in Parliament, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill labeled the now considered sunk Solwara 1 project for deep sea mining as a wasted venture that government was haste in investing in.

The PM made reference to this when questioned by the shadow treasurer for the Opposition and Kavieng MP, Mr Ian Ling Stucky on the estimated K400 million investment in the State’s stake in the project by Nautilus Minerals Inc.

Mr O’Neill was quick to blame the investment decision on the former Somare Government, which signed into the deal initially at 30 per cent.

The State eventually took on a 15 per cent stake in 2014, which the PM described was the only component that kept, what was touted to be a world’s first full scale project using deep sea mining, afloat till its recent financial upheavals over the past few years leading to its delisting from the Toronto Stock Exchange last month.

“In the case of Solwara (1), again this investment was done during the Somare government; it was not an investment during our government.

“It was not an investment that our government made. We have lost a lot of money because of stupidity and hundreds of millions of kina.

“We were buying ahead of all the shareholders. We were underwriting the project itself. A deal that should not have happened, and as a result it has cost us a lot of money,” the prime minister said.

Mining Minister Johnson Tuke said last month the company had been given sometime to prove it can source funds or will have its license revoked.

This is after Toronto-based underwater mineral exploration company was unsuccessful to appeal the initial decision by TSX to delist its shares as a result Nautilus’s common shares has been suspended from trading on TSX.

“As long Nautilus is compliant to our conditions of Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) then MRA does not have the right to underwrite their licence only until such a time when they are not compliant to the conditions of the licence.

MRA on the other hand stated earlier that once the agreed schedules set under the licence have been breached it will take on the necessary actions needed if it is deemed to have breached those agreements.

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Outrage: deep-sea mining poses an existential threat

Seabed mining machines

Stephanie Hessler | The Architectural Review | 11 April, 2019

The greed for ever more and ever cheaper minerals drives seabed mining – but at what cost?

At the height of the Cold War, in a top-secret mission titled Project Azorian, the CIA tried to retrieve Soviet submarine K-129, which had sunk in 1968. Under the auspices of the billionaire Howard Hughes, in 1974 a US ship was sent to recover the vessel with the hope of gathering valuable intelligence. The Agency needed a cover-up story to deflect from its actual target, so the public was told that Hughes’ ship was a commercial deep-sea mining vessel. After a series of mishaps, however, journalists broke the story in 1975, and the CIA aborted the mission.

It is no surprise that a cover-up story was used to distract the public from the actual aims of the mission. Misinformation is often paired with greed. The greed for ever more and ever cheaper minerals, used in devices such as the computer I am typing on, but also in ‘green’ technologies, drives seabed mining. Today, the minerals ostensibly targeted by the CIA mission have become subject to real prospecting. In oceanic resource grab, imperial and colonial asymmetric power relations of the past are reinforced. And so is the ecological and social havoc it will cause. –

The scientific and technocratic apparatus surrounding the world’s hydrosphere is largely governed by research institutes and companies of the Global North, which have at their command the know-how, technologies and financial means to engage in these highly complex and costly projects. The insights emerging from research at, for example, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, are employed by businesses such as the Canada-registered international company Nautilus Minerals. ‘The first company to commercially explore the seafloor for massive sulfide systems, a potential source of high grade copper, gold, zinc and silver’, as its website reads, Nautilus struck a deal with the Papua New Guinea government to mine minerals in the country’s national waters.

Mining in international waters, beyond a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles or up to the margin of the continental shelf, is unlikely to begin in the near future. However, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body to administrate resource extractions in international waters, has started distributing claims to prospecting countries such as France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Russia and the UK, as well as the Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru and Tonga. The claimed areas are in the Clarion- Clipperton Zone spanning 4.5 million km2 in the North Pacific Ocean, an area deemed to hold vast and unmatched potential for minerals. As of today, the holders are entitled to explore, not yet exploit. Yet this is the first move towards extraction in the so-called ‘Area’ beyond national jurisdiction defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the ‘common heritage of humankind’.

Long-term effects of deep-sea mining are devastating. Extractivist enterprises are likely to cause unprecedented damage to marine environments in directly affected zones as well as in neighbouring areas. In Papua New Guinea, where extraction in national waters is about to commence, land-based mining is already threatening ecosystems, lifestyles and health as well as economic and political self-determination. The deal with Nautilus Minerals bears the promise of short-term profit, but neglects the long-term ecological, social and economic consequences. It demonstrates the foreign dependency of economically deprived regions such as Papua New Guinea, pointing to the distributed complex of infrastructural and legal systems that the architect and researcher Keller Easterling has called ‘extrastatecraft’.

Not only resource extraction, but also tensions caused by territorial claims today gain further urgency. As sea levels rise, the baselines of island states such as Kiribati face dramatic change. International bodies discuss whether baselines should be frozen and, if so, when to set the starting date. This not only affects future access to essential foods such as fish, but also raises questions of nationhood and land rights. Does a country with no surface area above water cease to exist? What happens to the spiritual legacy, the graves and sacred sites, if they are submerged in water and disappear?

Deep-sea exploration and exploitation prospects utilise tropes reminiscent of the ‘new frontier’ rhetoric in previous imperialist endeavours. Using concepts of distance – often employed in colonial projects and environmental extraction alike – seabed mining will supposedly take place ‘far away’: deep below the ocean surface and in geographically remote areas. Clearly, the oceans are an intricately connected complex ecological system, and impacts in the seabed will not remain isolated and contained. And, importantly, such viewpoints are blatantly Eurocentric, begging the question: remote for whom? Technologies such as underwater cameras and scuba diving equipment have made what lies below the ocean surface visualisable, revealing the diversity of subaquatic life. This could contribute to the protection of the oceans.

Yet as depictions of the sea have moved from the impenetrable surface of a monstrous Leviathan to a space that can be seen, studied and conquered, techno-scientific advancements have also contributed to its exploitation. As anthropogenic actions affect ecosystems above and below water, often with the aim to extract resources and ameliorate human livelihoods, these projects deplete rather than augment, and close in rather than expand life worlds.

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Nautilus Minerals keeps PNG deep sea mining licence despite delisting

Nick Fogarty | ABC Pacific Beat | 3 April 2019

The government of Papua New Guinea says it has no plans to revoke the licence of Nautilus Minerals after it was announced the company will be delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The embattled Canadian mining company was due to be removed from the TSX at the close of trading on Wednesday 3rd April (local time) after failing to meet the Exchange’s listing requirements.

The delisting follows a sustained period of financial trouble for Nautilus, which had plans for what would have been the world’s first sea bed mining project, the Solwara 1 in PNG’s waters between the islands of New Ireland and New Britain.

Papua New Guinea has a 15 per cent equity stake in the Solwara 1 project.

PNG’s Minister for Mining, Johnson Tuke, said the government and the Mineral Resources Authority won’t be revoking Nautilus’ mining licence, as they haven’t breached its conditions.

“The government has a certain percentage in the mine and the operation at New Ireland,” he told Pacific Beat. “But they’ve complied with the conditions of the licence.

“If they look for alternatives to come and revive the company, the operation, then they will do so at their own expense.”

Mr Tuke said the government would potentially be seeking financial compensation at a later date, but they’re not currently exploring that option.

Landowners and local and international anti-mining groups have been vocal in their opposition to the Solwara 1 project.

Jonathan Mesulam from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors said the delisting showed that shareholders and investors didn’t have confidence in Nautilus.

He urged PNG’s political leaders to sit up and take notice.

“We are calling on … the national government to remove the licence from Nautilus Minerals and not to give any more licences to any other companies that are trying to come and do mining around the ocean, around the Bismarck, in PNG, and also the Pacific as well,” he told Pacific Beat.

Nautilus Minerals told Pacific Beat they’re unable to comment due to its ongoing Sale and Investment Solicitation Plan (SISP).

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