The World Wide Fund (WWF) says industry plans to mine the deep seabed for metals and minerals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel would have a destructive impact on deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity.
That could have subsequent harmful effects on fisheries, livelihoods and food security, and compromise ocean carbon and nutrient cycles.
“Industry wants us to think mining the deep sea is necessary to meet demand for minerals that go into electric vehicle batteries and the electronic gadgets in our pockets. But it’s not so,” says Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative.
“We don’t have to trash the ocean to decarbonize. Instead, we should be directing our focus toward innovation and the search for less resource-intensive products and processes,” said Battle. “We call on investors to look for innovative solutions and create a true circular economy that reduces the need to extract finite resources from the Earth.”
A new report, “In Too Deep: What We Know, And Don’t Know, About Deep Seabed Mining,” outlines likely impacts of deep seabed mining on ecosystems and biodiversity, and risks of allowing industry to proceed.
The new report outlines key environmental and social risks of deep seabed mining, and debunks industry claims about the need for the practice and its ability to mitigate harm and builds on a previous report issued in 2020 about the investigation into deep seabed mining.
Given the slow pace of deep-sea processes, destroyed habitats are unlikely to recover within human timescales.
The report highlights that marine ecosystems are connected, and many species are migratory. Therefore, deep seabed mining cannot occur in isolation, and disturbances can easily cross jurisdictional boundaries.
Negative effects on global fisheries would threaten the main protein source of around 1 billion people and the livelihoods of around 200 million people, many in poor coastal communities.
The potential value of deep seabed mining has been estimated at $2-20 billion — a fraction of the much more valuable sustainable ocean economy, which annually generates a conservatively estimated $1.5-2.4 trillion, benefiting many states and coastal communities.
WWF, as well as many other organisations, political leaders and scientists, is calling for a global moratorium on deep seabed mining unless and until the environmental, social and economic risks are comprehensively understood; all alternatives to adding more minerals into the resource economy are exhausted; and it is clearly demonstrated that deep seabed mining can be managed in a way that ensures the effective protection of the marine environment and prevents loss of biodiversity.
Catarina Grilo, Conservation and Policy Director at WWF in Portugal reinforced that “before mining and wrecking our seabed, which will degrade ocean health by affecting species, disturbing important areas for biodiversity and disrupting ecosystem functioning, we need to consider recycling existing materials, and being smarter about our production and consumption. Supporting deep sea mining as an industry would go against the goal of transitioning to a circular economy and against the United Nations Agenda 2030 goals.”
“Better environmental assessments and controls are needed to protect marine life,” said New Jersey environmental activist Lisa McCormick. “Persistent scientific uncertainty about the deep sea and gaps in mining safety procedures put marine life at serious risk. There is a need for more study the potential impacts of mining before allowing anyone to move forward with a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ approach that can have grave ecological consequences.”
“Scientists frequently discover new species living in the deep ocean, such as the Casper octopus, which was spotted and recorded for the first time in 2016, but industry actions put these lives in danger of extinction,” said McCormick. “
“Humanity must transform to a sustainable, blue and green economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations,” said McCormick. “We must restore, protect and maintain the diversity, productivity and resilience of marine ecosystems and move forward based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows.”
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