Nav: Home

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

January 22, 2018

Mining on the ocean floor could do irreversible damage to deep-sea ecosystems, says a new study of seabed mining proposals around the world. The deep sea (depths below 200m) covers about half of the Earth's surface and is home to a vast range of species.

Little is known about these environments, and researchers from the University of Exeter and Greenpeace say mining could have "long-lasting and unforeseen consequences"- not just at mining sites but also across much larger areas.

The study is the first to give a global overview of all current plans to mine the seabed, in both national and international waters, and looks at the potential impacts including physical destruction of seabed habitats, creation of large underwater plumes of sediment and the effects of chemical, noise and light pollution arising from mining operations.

"Our knowledge of these ecosystems is still limited, but we know they're very sensitive," said Dr David Santillo, a marine biologist and senior Greenpeace scientist based at the University of Exeter. "Recovery from man-made disturbance could take decades, centuries or even millennia, if these ecosystems recover at all."

"As we learn more about deep sea ecosystems and the role of oceans in mitigating climate change, it seems wise to take precautions to avoid damage that could have long-lasting and unforeseen consequences."

Despite the term "mining", much seabed mining would involve extraction of minerals over very wide areas of the sea floor rather than digging down to any great depth, potentially leaving a vast 'footprint' on the deep-sea habitats in which these mineral deposits occur.

Rising demand for minerals and metals, including for use in new technology, has sparked renewed interest in seabed mining.

Some operations are already taking place, generally at relatively shallow depths near national coastlines.

The first commercial enterprise in deeper waters, expected to target mineral-rich sulphides at depths of 1.5-2km off Papua New Guinea, is scheduled to begin early in 2019.

Speaking about these plans last year, Sir David Attenborough said it was "tragic that humanity should just plough on with no regard for the consequences".

The Exeter and Greenpeace research team say there are "many questions and uncertainties" around seabed mining, including legal issues and the difficulties of predicting the scale and extent of impacts in advance, and of monitoring and regulating mining activity once it takes place in the deep sea. The paper says that alternatives to seabed mining have already been proposed, including substituting metals in short supply for more abundant minerals with similar properties, as well as more effective collection and recycling of components from disused products and wastes.

However, Dr Santillo said demand for seabed mining would also diminish if humanity could cut overproduction and overconsumption of consumer goods. "Rather than using human ingenuity to invent more and more consumer products that we don't actually need, we could deploy it instead to build goods that last longer, are easier to repair and make better use of the limited natural resources we have," he said.

"With the right approaches, we can avoid the need for seabed mining altogether and stop the 'race to the bottom'.

"As governments prepare to set the rules and the first companies gear up to mine, now is the time to ask whether we just have to accept seabed mining, or should instead decide that the potential damage is just so great that we really need to find less destructive alternatives."

The paper, published in the journalFrontiers in Marine Science, is entitled: "An overview of seabed mining including the current state of development, environmental impacts, and knowledge gaps." It is an open-access publication accessible to readers anywhere in the world.
-end-


University of Exeter

Related Ecosystems Articles:

Fresh groundwater flow important for coastal ecosystems
Groundwater is the largest source of freshwater, one of the world's most precious natural resources and vital for crops and drinking water.
Re-thinking 'tipping points' in ecosystems and beyond
Abrupt environmental changes, known as regime shifts, are the subject of new research in which shows how small environmental changes trigger slow evolutionary processes that eventually precipitate collapse.
Even after death, animals are important in ecosystems
Animal carcasses play an important role in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
Natural ecosystems protect against climate change
The identification of natural carbon sinks and understanding how they work is critical if humans are to mitigate global climate change.
Viruses as modulators of interactions in marine ecosystems
Viruses are mainly known as pathogens - often causing death.
How to prevent mosquitofish from spreading in water ecosystems
Preventing the introduction of the mosquitofish and removing its population are the most effective actions to control the dispersal of this exotic fish in ponds and lakes, according to a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
Mount Kilimanjaro: Ecosystems in global change
Land use in tropical mountain regions leads to considerable changes of biodiversity and ecological functions.
The fiddlers influencing mangrove ecosystems
The types of bacteria living in and around fiddler crab burrows vary widely between mangroves, but their functional activities are remarkably similar.
Improving ecosystems with aquatic plants
Wetland restoration is critical for improving ecosystem services, but many aquatic plant nurseries do not have facilities similar to those typically used for large-scale plant production.
Pollution in cities damaging insects and ecosystems
High levels of pollution found in many of the world's major cities are having negative effects on plants and insects, according to new research from the University of Sheffield.
More Ecosystems News and Ecosystems Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.