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Deep sea mining about to kick off in the Pacific is not ‘sustainable on all levels’

Deep sea mining has now been approved for testing at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, in a controversial move.

The Metals Company, a deep-sea mining company, has now been allowed to test its mining machinery in the Pacific by the International Seabed Authority for the first time since the 1970s. However, some Pacific island nations are not fans of this decision.

Deep sea mining involves harvesting minerals from the deep ocean sea floor, below 650 feet, as opposed to underground on land.

The most sought-after minerals on the seabed include polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, all of which can be used to make rechargeable batteries and smartphones.

Diamonds, gold, nickel and rare earths can also be harvested from the seabed.

The test mining machinery involves a giant vehicle that crawls along the ocean floor, collecting rocks and sediments which are then sucked up to the surface of the water via a device called a riser.

“In simple terms, [the concerns about deep sea mining are] on unique biodiversity and extinction potential, as well as major impacts in general,” said Gavin Mudd, associate professor of environmental engineering at RMIT University (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology). Pleasemynews.

“The cause of these impacts varies from direct mining of habitats (i.e. the nodules themselves) to deposition of sediment over a wide area due to the mining process generating plumes Whether deep sea or land mining is more detrimental is highly controversial.”

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the main concerns of scientists regarding deep-sea mining include the enormous disturbance of the seabed caused by digging and gauging machinery, resulting in the loss of species, and fragmentation or loss of ecosystem structure.

The machinery will also create sediment plumes, which will re-settle and block the pores of corals and sponges, as well as potential leaks of chemical pollutants into the water, which could affect animals at all levels of the food chain.

“For a use to be sustainable, it must not have permanent and irreversible effects on the environment,” said David Bailey, an expert in marine ecology at the University of Glasgow. Pleasemynews.

“The needs of the present should not come at the expense of future generations. The evidence so far is that seabed communities either do not recover from mining, or take an inordinate amount of time to do so. On that basis, I don’t think deep sea mining can be considered sustainable on any level.”

Another major effect could be noise pollution which, according to an article published in the journal Sciencecould reach hundreds of kilometers from a single mine site.

Much of the deep ocean remains unstudied, according to an article published in the March 2022 issue of Marine Policy, with significant gaps in our scientific knowledge of life on the high seas. Some 653 marine science and policy experts of more than 44 countries have signed a petition calling for a pause in deep sea mining in the Pacific.

According to ABC News Australia, the Metals Company has already begun surveying a mine site between Mexico and Hawaii and expects to collect around 3,600 tonnes of material by December.

Pacific island nations have been torn apart by these recent developments. While Nauru has sponsored the Metal Company in its mining efforts, and Kiribati and the Cook Islands have looked into seabed mining in their own inland waters, Tuvalu is not so pleased.

“I note the many procedures that were followed for the approval of the pilot trial, but I feel that the Pacific is quite divided on the issue,” said Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, at ABC News Australia.

“Nations have declared or proposed moratoriums, citing the unknown risks of mining to our ocean and its biodiversity.”

“I don’t know how much money island communities can make from this type of mining,” Bailey said. “They could consider the permanent loss of deep-sea biodiversity at an acceptable price to pay, and if the mining is in their EEZ [exclusive economic zone] so they have that right.

“Many mining activities are planned in the high seas, the parts of the ocean that no country belongs to. In this case, these resources are the property of all humans, and the International Seabed Authority is supposed to represent.”

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