Only two years left to stop deep-sea mining

Fifty years ago, we were just beginning to dream of exploiting the deep seabed. Today these dreams could turn into a nightmare, explique New Scientist. Scientists have discovered diverse and interconnected ecosystems at the bottom of the oceans and realized that their exploitation could disrupt the health and functioning of the entire planet.

Although deep-sea mining has yet to begin, this dystopia may soon become a reality. Indeed, countries like the UK, France, Belgium, Russia, China and Japan have sights set on all the metals contained in coal-sized notulas and scattered across the vast abyssal plain, called the Clarion Clipperton area and located 5,000 meters below the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific island of Nauru, which used a controversial provision of international law, said its seabed mining contractor intends to apply for a mining license. The provision, which is rather vague, means that in two years, the International Seabed Authority will have to “Provisionally approve” this Nauru mine, which would operate in accordance with environmental regulations in force by then – which may be non-existent. They are currently under discussion and still far from ready.

A global moratorium to call for a break

If the seabed mining project were to continue, it could trigger an environmental disaster, with nodule mining potentially wiping out unique species. This is because sediment plumes can suffocate animals, including those living far from mines, and mining wastewater can pollute deep waters. From tardigrades to tuna, through octopus, corals and even whale sharks, the extraction of nodules could harm a whole part of ocean life.

Dozens of other mines, run by other countries and companies, could follow Nauru’s example and consequently affect thousands of square kilometers of the seabed every year for decades. On a larger scale, it is the regulation of climate, nutrient cycling and long-term carbon storage in the oceans that could be affected.

With deep-sea mining not inevitable, New Scientist reporter Helen Scales reports that other scientists and political experts have called for a global moratorium. In their statement, they ask for a break from mining, the time to understand its impacts on the environment. For the decision to be taken within two years, the support of civil society is needed. Helen Scales clarified that any additional signature is welcome.

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