By Julia Barnes
Can you imagine a mine so large it would span the continental United States? An industrial project this size is currently being planned. It is the first attempt at deep sea mining in international waters.
The Clarion Clipperton Zone, an area located between Hawaii and Mexico in the Pacific Ocean, has been divvied up among corporations and countries, with enough claims staked to constitute the largest contiguous mining area on the planet.
The proposed mining process would involve lowering “house-sized” machines 4000 meters deep, and using them to extract rock-like formations known as polymetallic nodules from the sea floor. The machines bring noise and light, disruptive to life in a normally dark, quiet environment. As they move, the mining machines would stir up sediment, burying and smothering organisms.
Species extinction is considered a “likely outcome” of deep-sea mining.
Polymetallic nodules themselves are key to the functioning of the deep sea. They regulate the nutrient contents and the pH of the surrounding water, and provide habitat for a diversity of species. Their removal would be catastrophic for the deep sea community. And they won’t come back on anything but a geological timescale. They grow at a rate of 10mm per million years.
Mined materials would be pumped to a ship at the surface for initial processing, separating valuable materials from debris and sediment.
It is estimated that each mining vessel would produce 2 to 6 million cubic feet of wastewater – equivalent to 22,000 dump trucks full of pollution – every day. This waste would be pumped back into the ocean, to the bathypelagic zone, where it would spread and be carried by currents. Plumes of fine particulate matter are considered deadly to fish, because the sediment gets into their gills and damages their ability to breathe.
Deep-sea mining risks damaging the largest active carbon sink on the planet. The removal of polymetallic nodules and the release of sediment could permanently reduce the ability of the deep sea to sequester carbon, exacerbating climate change.
In an ocean already under assault from industrial fishing, pollution, ocean acidification, and ocean warming, why would we add another threat?
At the same time, deep sea mining regulations are being fast-tracked. Corporations are pushing for exploitation to be permitted as soon as 2023.
This is a key time for activism – deep sea mining hasn’t started yet, and we have an opportunity to oppose it before it happens.
Here are some ways you can take action now.
Sign these petitions:
Join the demonstration against deep sea mining in Vancouver on June 8th, 2022: