Mining the Deep Sea Could Mean Unique Ecosystems Are ‘Lost Forever’

Mining the Deep Sea Could Mean Unique Ecosystems Are ‘Lost Forever’
Source: Gizmodo

A new analysis of 250 studies has found that the negative impacts of deep sea mining would be severe and could last millions of years.

As demand for smartphones, computers, and clean energy technologies has increased, so has demand for the precious rare earth metals like tellurium, cadmium, lithium, and cobalt that are used to make them. But supplies of these materials on land are limited. That’s led corporations to look for vast stores of them in underwater polymetallic nodules—aka, big rocks full of metal on the seafloor.

Countries like Japan, the UK and China are racing to be first to begin deep sea mining. And increasingly, cash-strapped Pacific Island nations, which are hot spots for the nodules companies are looking to exploit, are also considering allowing mining to diversify their economies. But the new report, released by watchdog MiningWatch Canada and coalition of environmental nonprofits Deep Sea Mining Campaign on Tuesday, shows that deep sea mining in the Pacific could cause extensive damage to ecosystems and island communities. Scientists are only just beginning to understand the deep sea as an ecosystem, but from what we do know, mining could come with huge risks.
Dredging up the seafloor for minerals could seriously threaten biodiversity. Bottom-dwelling creatures like coral and sponges live on the nodules, and since nodules don’t form quickly, the ecosystems wouldn’t recover in our lifetime. Research also shows that mining could disturb microbes that sequester greenhouse gases like carbon and methane, though exactly what their loss would mean for climate change is an area of active research.



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