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Deep Sea Mining: the new bad guy in town

April 5, 2021

The oceans are facing more threats than ever—including a new, secretive industry ramping up that would put even more pressure on our oceans: deep sea mining. 

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish in the Arctic Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. A selection of deep sea creatures that are found in the Arctic. The animals were documented by marine biologist, explorer and underwater photographer Alexander Semenov, head of the divers’ team at Moscow State University’s White Sea biological station.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish in the Arctic Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. A selection of deep sea creatures that are found in the Arctic. The animals were documented by marine biologist, explorer and underwater photographer Alexander Semenov, head of the divers’ team at Moscow State University’s White Sea biological station.

© Alexander Semenov

Climate breakdown. Plastic pollution. Overfishing. The oceans are facing more threats than ever and yet, there’s a new bad guy in town. A new and secretive industry is ramping up that would put even more pressure on our oceans: deep sea mining. 

The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on the planet, but only a tiny fraction of the deep seafloor has been investigated by scientists to understand what sea creatures live there. We actually know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the bottom of the ocean. 

The little we do know though, is that these are extreme ecosystems teeming with life: the deep seafloor is home to ancient coral reefs, and around 85% of species found near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea are found nowhere else in the oceans.

If you were to dive hundreds of meters below the water and take a closer look at hydrothermal vents, you might meet the sea pangolin, a snail with iron-infused armor that allows it to withstand the high temperatures of the vents. Or the yeti crab, so-called because of its uncanny resemblance to the monster of the same name, with its long, hairy arms. 

And those are just two weird examples of life happening deep down on the seabed, where countless species are yet to be discovered. 

The spiral tube worm, or Sabella Spallanzanii, lives in membranous tubes, often reinforced by the inclusion of mud particles and has a feathery, filter-feeding crown that can be quickly withdrawn into the tube when danger threatens. Greenpeace is in the Azores with a team of scientists to survey and document deep sea life.

Yet deep sea mining companies are planning to send monster machines deep below the surface, churning up the seafloor, permanently disrupting sensitive and unique habitats.

For what? To extract metals and minerals for profit. Governments and companies are making decisions now that will shape what resources are needed in the future, and where these resources come from. They need to take seriously the urgency of using resources more efficiently, transforming transport systems and moving towards slow circular economies.

We can’t just keep looking for new terrain to plunder. The fact is there are plenty of solutions that exist that do not involve bulldozing the seafloor. E-waste, a term to describe electronic products that have become obsolete or no longer work, is now the fastest-growing type of waste. It is time to move from our current “take, make, waste” system, to a slow circular economy that will minimize waste by reusing and recycling metals and minerals found in electronics; and focus on designing gadgets that reduce their use in the first place. 

Greenpeace held an exhibition in a Beijing shopping centre to show the public the value of e-waste with information panels, and an art installation made of over 500 old mobile phones was also exhibited. 2019.

Monster machines ripping up the seabed sounds pretty scary when we’re already facing a climate and nature emergency. But here’s the good news: the deep sea mining industry has not started its destructive activities… yet. 

We have a unique chance to stop this new threat in its tracks. Right now, governments are negotiating a Global Ocean Treaty at the UN. Sign the petition to call on governments to create a strong treaty that can open the door to a global network of ocean sanctuaries, and set high standards to protect the global oceans from destructive industries. 

Help keep deep sea biodiversity safe. Join the movement to #ProtectTheOceans.

SIGN THE PETITION

Louisa Casson is a senior political strategist at Greenpeace International

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