BY JULIA BARNES
This article was originally published in Counterpunch.
Even as the ocean struggles under the assaults of industrial fishing, ocean warming, pollution, and acidification, corporations are pushing to exploit it in a new and dangerous way.
Deep sea mining includes plans to extract polymetallic nodules from the sea floor. Commercial exploitation could begin as early as 2024. It would involve house-sized machines indiscriminately extracting the contents of the seabed, sending the material to a ship at the surface, processing, and subsequently dumping a slurry of wastewater back into the ocean.
Some companies have stated that the sediment will be returned to a depth below 1200m. That’s called the bathypelagic zone – and some animals who live there include viperfish, anglerfish, frilled sharks, eels, and squid. Sediment plumes, like the ones created by seabed mining, are known to be deadly to fish, because the particulate matter damages their ability to breathe.
Mining machines bring noise and light, disruptive to life in a normally quiet, dark environment. As they move, the machines stir up sediment, burying and smothering organisms.
Despite the claims of corporations, this is not a “gentle” form of mining, and the seabed is not a “vast marine desert” but home to a diversity of species whose existence may soon be threatened.
Species extinction is considered a “likely outcome” of deep sea mining.
The rock-like formations known as polymetallic nodules are sought-after because they contain metals like nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese, used in electric vehicle batteries. Because of this, seabed mining has been framed as a service to the planet. Yet the same corporations that claim to care about sustainability are pushing to fast-track regulations, to begin exploiting a fragile biome, risking ecosystem collapse.
Polymetallic nodules play a key role in the deep sea environment. They regulate the nutrient contents and pH of the surrounding waters. They are habitat and breeding ground for many species, and they harbour complex communities of microbes who help sequester carbon.
The deep sea is the largest active carbon sink on the planet, and mining may permanently damage its ability to sequester carbon, exacerbating climate change.
It is neither green, nor ethical, to risk the Earth’s largest carbon sink or to condemn entire regions of the ocean as sacrifice zones.
This is a key time for action – deep sea mining hasn’t started yet, and we have the opportunity to stop it before it happens.
Here are some ways you can take action now.
Sign these petitions: https://www.pacificblueline.org/pacific-blue-line-statement https://www.change.org/p/canada-support-a-moratorium-and-stop-deep-sea-mining-now https://www.change.org/p/international-seabed-authority-stop-deep-sea-mining
Join the demonstration against deep sea mining in Vancouver on June 8th, 2022: https://www.facebook.com/events/1055519198711190/?ref=newsfeed
Julia Barnes is the award-winning director of the documentaries Sea of Life and Bright Green Lies.