The world’s oceans are in a bad way, to put it mildly. Decades of overfishing, industrial pollution, plastic waste and threats to basic ecological stability posed by climate change all demonstrate how “humanity is collectively mismanaging the ocean to the brink of collapse,” according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Blue Planet Report released in September.
Now another threat is emerging: deep sea mining.
Seabed minerals were discovered as far back as 1873. But it’s only within the last decade, as demand has grown for items such as smartphones – and as the depletion of inland resources has pushed mining exploration to further extremes – that technology has made the exaction of copper, zinc, manganese, nickel, cobalt and gold from under the sea possible.
Now, the world’s first-ever commercial deep sea mining (DSM) project is due to start in under two years time – and environmentalists and scientists are worried.
“We currently have very poor understanding of deep sea ecosystems, few protected areas, and management regimes that are rudimentary at best,” said marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner. “Thus, the potential for irreversible ecological damage due to DSM is high. We need a ten-year continuous time series of research before we will have even a vague understanding of the environmental impact.”
Some action is being taken in the face of these uncertainties. In February, a team of researchers from 25 European institutions began a three-year study on the potential ecological effects of DSM. But it could be too little too late.
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