Deep-sea mining stirs up debate in the Pacific

A new report published last month by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign has raised significant concerns about the prospect of deep-sea mining within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). Experts from the University of South Pacific, Fiji and James Cook University, Australia urge Pacific Island governments to take precautionary action when considering allowing permits for deep-sea mining.

Currently there are 16 international mining companies that have contracts to explore potential mining sites with the CCZ, exploring the seabed for minerals. Representatives from the mining industry argue that mining for minerals founds in polymetallic nodules is necessary for the development of renewable energy technologies and is less destructive than land mining. Opponents of deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules posit that scientific studies into the effects of such mining lead to significant loss in biodiversity in the marine environment. According to the report, the impacts of polymetallic nodule mining will impact greatly on deep-sea habitats and unique species, which are still yet to be studied along with the impact of sediment plumes and waste discharge from mining operations on nearby coral reef systems and fisheries. Scientists from the Deep Sea Mining Campaign argue that recovery from such mining activities could potentially take thousands of years if at all.

In a statement to, DeepGreen Metals Inc. said that deep-sea mining for polymetallic nodules would be less destructive than land based mining.

“We see nodules as an opportunity to compress the disastrous impacts of land-based mining,” the spokesperson told Mongabay in an email. “Whilst nodule collection will impact the seabed where nodules are collected and create sediment plumes, the impacts of which will be studied in-depth over the next three years, our research finds that nodules offer significant environmental and social impact reductions when compared to mining the same metals on land. As it stands, more territory has been set aside in the CCZ under protected ‘areas of particular environmental interest’ than has been licensed out for exploration by the ISA. These protected areas will make sure that the animals in the area have plenty of habitat on the abyssal plain, the largest ecosystem on the planet. Mining on land now takes place in some of the most biodiverse places on the planet,” the spokesperson added. “The ocean floor, on the other hand, is a food-poor environment with no plant life and an order of magnitude less biomass living in a larger area. We can’t avoid disturbing wildlife, to be clear, but we will be putting fewer organisms at risk than land-based operations mining the same metals.”

While the economic arguments for deep-sea mining in the CCZ may see short term gains for Pacific Island nations, especially as they have been hit hard by the impacts of COVID-19, the new report argues that such mining activities will greatly impact local fisheries causing a ripple effect on the local economy, society and the environment of Pacific Island nations.

The Deep Sea Mining campaign is calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining including licences to explore the seabed for potential sites until several objectives have been met such as: acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the environmental, social and economic risks of nodule mining; demonstrating that deep-sea mining can be managed in a way that prevents damage to the marine environment and the loss of biodiversity; ensuring that mining companies receive consent to mine from indigenous peoples in affected communities; conducting exhaustive research into alternative sources of minerals for renewable energy; establishing public consultation mechanisms; and reforming the ISA to ensure transparency and accountability.

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Image by Craig Smith and Diva Amon, ABYSSLINE Project / NOAA.

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