Commercial deep sea mining is scheduled to begin within two years, but scientists warn that this type of mining is unnecessary and even dangerous.
As of now, deep sea mining is allowed in the exclusive economic zones of coastal nations. Meanwhile, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is drawing up new regulations for deep sea mining outside of these areas.
With pressure mounting from the Pacific island of Nauru and The Metals Company, the ISA has two years to finish its regulations. If they are not finished within this time period, mining can begin with no regulations in place. Dr. Kirsten Thompson of the University of Exeter explains the conundrum that seabed mining presents.
“Seabed mining is sometimes presented as an unavoidable consequence of ever-growing demand for minerals, especially to supply certain metals for the green technology transition,” said Dr. Thompson.
“This narrative is put forward by mining companies, who also present deep-sea mining as the ‘lesser of two evils’ in comparison to land-based mining, but it’s impossible to compare the inherent value of land and deep-sea ecosystems. If you’re asking ‘which destructive industry is better?’ then you’re asking the wrong question.”
The scientists emphasize that better engineering and efficiency are of utmost importance and that it’s simply a “myth” that deep sea mining is necessary.
“Current estimates of mineral requirements for renewable technology don’t fully account for important factors such as technological advances in battery technology, better public transport and behaviour changes such as people taking fewer journeys by car,” said Dr. Kevin Brigden, a metals chemist with Greenpeace Research Laboratories.
There’s also an enormous amount that we do not know about deep sea ecosystems, their role in carbon storage, their biodiversity, or how they could be threatened by mining. The researchers point out that mining is likely to benefit only a handful of mining companies in the world’s richest nations – while threatening the entire world.
The University of Exeter has launched a “Green Futures” campaign and website to drive action on the environment and climate emergency. To find out more, please visit https://greenfutures.exeter.ac.uk.