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Where promises of wealth and progress collide with the brutal reality of ecological devastation.


Before I pull you into the depths of this article’s topic, let’s float in the coziness of good news for a second:

The United Nations has reached a significant agreement on a historic treaty intended to protect biodiversity in the “high seas” — the expanse of the ocean that covers almost half of the world and is not subject to any individual nation’s laws or control. The treaty comes after two decades of planning and talks and aims to address threats such as climate change, overfishing, potential seabed mining, and other environmental hazards.

In a twist of irony, at the same time, a hush-hush organization called the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which has been established under the authority of the United Nations Convention, has been quietly debating the merits and rules of plundering our ocean floors through deep-sea mining.

Simultaneously, the Norwegian government proposed opening its arctic waters in the size of the UK and Ireland combined, to deep-sea mining.

Protecting the high seas while raiding the deep seas. That sounds just about right for the world we’re living in. A world of make-believe on the surface and of dark secrets down below. Most people are happy while floating on the surface, but I’m a freediver, and I dive deep.

So let’s cover the basics first:

What is deep-sea mining?

Ah, deep-sea mining, the epitome of human ingenuity and progress. It’s an activity where we venture into the depths of the ocean, disrupting delicate ecosystems and unearthing precious minerals with great gusto. During deep-sea mining operations, large mining machines resembling a combination of bulldozers and harvesters will traverse the seafloor, scooping up nodules and causing significant disturbance.

As the mining machines extract materials, they will expel water, sediment, and fragmented marine life. The extracted materials will be transported through a network of pipes to a surface ship. At this point, the nodules will be separated from other substances, such as water, sediment, and potentially broken metal fragments. These discarded materials will be discharged back into the ocean as waste.

What’s at stake?

Our knowledge of the ocean depths is far less than that of the Universe, and deep-sea mining could have disastrous consequences. By mining it, we cannot even come close to comprehending, let alone predicting, the outcome of these actions.

Yet, some foreseeable impacts include:

  1. Damage to marine life: Mining machines harm habitats, and the resultant sediment plumes, toxic vapors, noise, and artificial light disrupt the well-being of marine organisms.
  2. Species extinction: Mining destroys the habitats of unique deep-sea species, risking their extinction.
    If you’re interested in learning more about deep-sea creatures and critters and want to see pictures of some of the 5000 species that have been discovered in deep-sea mining-targeted areas, check out this study led by the Natural History Museum of London.
  3. Impact on climate change: The deep sea stores significant amounts of “blue carbon”, which helps mitigate climate change by naturally absorbing carbon dioxide. Deep sea mining will disrupt the processes that store carbon in sediments, potentially releasing stored carbon and exacerbating climate change.
  4. Food chain disruption: Mining impacts extend beyond the ocean floor, affecting the entire marine food chain.
  5. Loss of undiscovered wonders: Only a tiny fraction of the deep seafloor has been explored, and there is much more to learn about its ecosystems and wildlife. Deep-sea mining will destroy species and ecosystems yet to be discovered.

In conclusion, the ocean is an expansive and sensitive ecosystem that functions exclusively based on its inherent laws. If a region loses its apex predators like sharks or bluefin tuna, it causes cascading effects that ripple out through the entire ecosystem, impacting all the plants and animals in the area. This process is known as “trophic cascades”.

Take, for example, the role of the tiger shark, the sole predator of mature sea turtles that feed on corals. If these sharks are overfished, sea turtles will thrive in masses, consuming coral at such a rate that it will decimate the necessary habitats for smaller reef fish. A consequent decline in reef fish would result in fewer organisms consuming algae from the coral, leading to the suffocation and death of the coral itself. Thus, the delicate balance of the ecosystem is disrupted, leading to unforeseen consequences.

Why deep-sea mining?

The deep sea is home to a variety of mineral resources, which have become progressively scarcer on land, especially with the skyrocketing demand for batteries propelled by the green energy revolution. Consequently, the escalating need for minerals, such as copper, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements, is incentivizing companies to look towards the deep sea as a viable solution to this escalating demand.

While one could argue, from a surface-level perspective, that deep-sea mining is driven by advancement and green energy, a deeper dive reveals that the primary motivations lie in growth and financial gain for a select few. Surprise, surprise.

For the last thirty years, the activities of the discreet International Seabed Authority (ISA) have gone largely unnoticed and unreported. To clarify, the ISA is the regulatory body established under the United Nations Convention.

But with the super-rich wanting to get hyper-rich and resources getting scarcer as we speak, more and more stakeholders are joining in on the discussions about deep-sea mining, and the negotiations of the ISA have been thrust into the limelight. This intergovernmental body is responsible for establishing the guidelines for deep-sea mining because the seabed, much like the high seas, falls beyond national jurisdiction and lacks regulations.

As a regulatory organization, the ISA’s mandate is to protect the global oceans, so it’s rather questionable that the organization’s officials seem to be pushing for companies to be allowed to start deep-sea mining.

Michael Lodge, the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), is facing criticism from diplomats who allege that he is advocating for the swift implementation of deep-sea mining and opposing initiatives that could postpone the initial mining proposals. The ISA is expected to receive official applications for commercial seabed mining in July and is still in the process of drafting regulations to govern the activity.

To date, the ISA has not rejected a single exploration license for mining, and it profits from every application, with each one carrying an application fee of $500,000. Furthermore, the ISA receives regular payments from the contractors. The irony isn’t lost on us that the ISA, an organization that supposedly regulates mining, profits from each mining application.

Michael Lodge has even appeared in a promotional video for a mining company. In a film made by The Metals Company (formerly DeepGreen Metals), he appears alongside the company’s executives promoting deep-sea mining.

The Metals Company… that name rings a bell, doesn’t it? Indeed, it’s the very same Canadian mining startup, backed by the island nation of Nauru, which two years ago issued an ultimatum to the ISA. They boldly stated their intent to commence mining operations in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the North Pacific Ocean by 2023. This two-year rule presented the ISA with a tight timeline to finalize regulations governing the deep-sea mining industry. Should the ISA fail to meet this deadline, they will be required to allow mining contractors to initiate their work under the existing regulations at that time, or even more alarmingly, in the absence of any regulations at all.

“The law of the sea says you can only start deep-sea mining if you can ensure there won’t be harm to the marine environment,” Louisa Casson from Greenpeace explains, “and that it will benefit humankind. Right now, neither of those conditions can be met. Not a single scientist I speak to makes the case that it’s sensible and safe to start mining now. And how on earth could this be considered for the good of humankind when the industry is so concentrated in privately owned companies?”

The international opposition to deep-sea mining has increased on a global scale and continues to grow. Large businesses, including BMW, Volvo, Google, and Samsung, have committed to avoiding ocean-mined minerals. Even car manufacturers are raising eyebrows, refusing to utilize materials extracted in such an environmentally detrimental manner.
Numerous governments, such as those of France, Spain, Germany, and New Zealand, to name a few, have called for either a complete ban or a moratorium on this contentious industry.

But perhaps most significantly, the global scientific consensus heavily leans against deep-sea mining. Over 700 scientists from 44 different countries have signed on to an open call for a halt to deep-sea mining.

Despite this chorus of opposition, the Canadian-owned company and the government of Nauru might just pull a legal trick that could see deep-sea mining become a reality within weeks.

The clock is ticking down to the deadline in July, and we’re left wondering if we’re about to do a colossal “oopsie” because the only people actively making the case for mining starting now are the companies themselves.

The ocean is our best ally in the fight against climate change and could hold the solutions that we need. So instead of destroying it even more in the name of “green energy,” which couldn’t be any less green, we should support it in every way we can.

The seas play a crucial role in mitigating climate change, generating half of the planet’s oxygen, absorbing a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions, and capturing 90% of the excess heat produced by our emissions.

Ultimately, the bottom line seems crystal clear — unless we fancy wiping out our marine ecosystems for the profit of a few companies, we should be giving this mining fiasco a hard pass.

The question is, will the world’s governments get the memo in time? This is a race against the clock to save not only the seabed. Can we stop this madness before it starts? Only time will tell. We just hope the answer doesn’t turn out to be a tragic cosmic joke.

By: Julia from Underwater Lunatics



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