The ocean is constantly burdened by human activity, it suffers from overfishing, frequent maritime traffic, and a large amount of garbage and chemicals travel here. Deep mining would be the final blow to the ocean. Only a madman would think of such a thing, unfortunately this crazy idea might become a reality. A UN agency has granted permission for a Canadian-based company to test out deep-sea mining.
Permit for deep-sea mining?
The Metals Company (TMC) announced on September 7 that the International Seabed Authority (ISA) had given its subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI) the go-ahead to gather 3,600 tonnes of polymetallic nodules from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, beginning later this month. This announcement shocked all opponents of deep mining. There have long been calls for a moratorium on these controversial practices. Instead of deep mining being uncompromisingly banned, the UN itself will sanctify it.
“This is a troubling development which brings us even closer to the launch of the commercial deep sea mining industry,” Greenpeace USA project lead on deep sea mining Arlo Hemphill said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “It is a threat to the ocean, home to over 90% of life on earth, and one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change.”
A threat to the entire underwater ecosystem
What exactly is deep-sea mining? Deep-sea mining is the term for removing mineral deposits from the ocean floor below 200 meters (approximately 656 feet), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A large number of important metals are found at the bottom of the ocean. But is this really a reason for us to destroy the underwater ecosystem? Metals such as copper, nickel, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lithium and cobalt are found. These metals are used in electric cars, mobile phones and any other electronics that contain a battery. Scientists and environmentalists warn that underwater mining is causing irreparable damage.
It can threaten deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity. Last year, the overwhelming majority of governments, non-profit organizations and civil society groups at the world congress of the IUCN voted in favor of placing a moratorium on the practice until the environmental impacts can be fully researched and understood.
Where is deep-sea mining planned?
The Ecowatch portal stated on its website: “Despite this, TMC announced that the ISA had reviewed its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP) and said it could move forward with a test in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ ) of the Pacific Ocean. This is a swath of seafloor west of Mexico and southeast of Hawaii with an area of one million square miles, according to Quartz.
The test will involve Swiss contractor Allseas using a prototype device to collect nodules of metal from the seafloor that will then be brought to the Hidden Gem, a processing ship on the ocean surface. The trial will be assessed by ocean scientists from a dozen different institutions, whose advice will guide the ISA’s decision as to whether or not to grant the company the right to exploit the area in earnest, according to TMC’s statement. The trial should conclude before the end of 2022.”
“We have a couple of exciting and no doubt challenging months ahead of us,” TMC CEO and Chairman Gerard Barron said in the announcement. “The environmental and operational data and insights from these trials will be an important step in ensuring the safe and efficient collection of polymetallic nodules to supply critical battery materials for the clean energy transition.”
Is deep-sea mining necessary?
The Ecowatch portal continues: “Barron’s argument is a common one in favor of deep-sea mining. TMC says the deep-sea metals it has the rights to would be enough to power 280 million electric vehicles, the total number of cars in the U.S., The New York Times reported. However, a 2021 study cast doubt on the assertion that seabed mining is necessary for the clean energy transition, arguing that it was possible to avoid it by expanding public transportation, improving metal recycling and switching from lithium-ion batteries to materials in the works that don’t require cobalt or nickel.”
Among the biggest opponents of deep mining is the Greenpeace group. A recent New York Times article points out that the TMC spent 15 years gaining influence with the ISA and that the UN agency shared important data with the mining company, including the exact location of deposits of precious metals on the seabed. These were also later reserved just for TMC.
“The ISA was set up by the United Nations with the purpose of regulating the international seabed, with a mandate to protect it,” Hemphill said. “Instead, they are now enabling mining of the critically important international seafloor.”
The company bypassed important measures
The company has also circumvented measures designed to secure the interests of developing countries, who are supposed to see the data first to help them compete with wealthier nations. In this case, however, TMC gained the sponsorship of Nauru and Tonga after seeing the data and still holds all the rights to the potential mining projects, The New York Times explained.
“This company set out to game the system and use a poor, developing Pacific nation as the conduit to exploit these resources,” Lord Fusitu’a, a former member of the Tonga parliament, told The New York Times.
Of the approximately 200,000 square miles of seabed set aside by the ISA for developing countries, almost half is now essentially in the hands of TMC, Hemphill said.
Ordinary people who call the Pacific home have been rallying against deep-sea mining and spoke out against the ISA’s decision.
“This latest decision from the ISA will have come as a shock to civil society who were shut out of the decision-making process, highlighting a lack of transparency from the authority,” Greenpeace Aotearoa seabed mining campaigner James Hita said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. “For decades, Pacific peoples have been pushed aside and excluded from decision-making processes in their own territories. Deep sea mining is yet another example of colonial forces exploiting Pacific land and seas without regard to people’s way of life, food sources, and spiritual connection to the ocean.”