Deep-sea mining could lead to 25x more biodiversity loss than land mining, report warns

Biodiversity on the ocean floor on Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Patrick J. Endres / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images

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Rising demand for metals such as nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese to make batteries used in smartphones and electric vehicles, along with declining deposits on land, has led to increased interest in deep-sea mining. But research suggests that the process of extracting mineral deposits from the ocean floor can destroy habitats and decimate species.

According to a new report from British non-profit financial think tank Planet Tracker, mining in the ocean depths could cause up to 25 times more biodiversity loss than mining on land, Reuters reported. And the financial cost of repairing that damage would be twice as much as repairing it.

The sea floor is littered with small chunks of minerals at depths of about two and a half to three and a quarter miles deep, but these nodules are also vital habitats for a large number of marine species.

“The main indirect effects of deep-sea mining are related to the sediment plumes and noise generated by mining activities, which can have far-reaching consequences for ocean ecosystems. For example, seafloor communities can be choked, toxic metals can be released, deep-sea fisheries can be contaminated and nutrients can be introduced into otherwise nutrient-poor ecosystems. While these impacts have been studied relatively little, existing research indicates that they are likely to be very difficult to control and control due to the highly interconnected and dynamic nature of the ocean,” the report said.

The report, “The Sky High Cost of Deep Sea Mining,” said the destructive mining process in international waters would impact a biosphere area equal to more volume than all of the planet’s fresh water.

Biodiversity loss could also be irreversible, Planet Tracker warned.

“[T]the nodules … take millions of years to form,” said François Mosnier, head of the Oceans Program at Planet Tracker, as reported by Reuters.

Those who support the deep-sea mining process have said that to mitigate the impact, artificial clay nodules could be installed after the natural lumps have been mined, but the report said the cost would be $5.3 to $5.7 million. for every 0.39 square mile. The mining itself would cost about $2.7 million for the same area.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned: “Deep-sea mining should be halted until criteria specified by IUCN are met, including the introduction of assessments, effective regulation and mitigation strategies.”

Regulations for reclamation of the ocean floor in international waters from the United Nations’ Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority are expected next month.

“The pro-deep-sea mining lobby is creating its own narrative by choosing to portray only part of what we know and don’t know. They are selling a narrative that companies need deep-sea bed minerals to produce electric cars, batteries and other items that reduce carbon emissions,” said Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, according to a 2021 WWF press release.

Companies like Samsung SDI, AB Volvo Group and Google, as well as several countries, have called for a moratorium on starting the destructive process, Reuters reported.

“But smart companies that are committed to sustainability see through that false story. Deep-sea mining is an avoidable environmental disaster. We can decarbonise through innovation, redesign, reduction, reuse and recycling,” said Battle.

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