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Mining the seabed

WWF: deep seabed mining is ‘an avoidable environmental disaster’
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Mining the seabed

Too many unknowns and gaps in ocean science, policy and industry innovation remain for any deep seabed mining activities to be allowed to take place, according to a new investigation released by WWF.

The destructive impacts of mining the deep seabed for metals and minerals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel on deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity could have knock-on effects on fisheries, livelihoods and food security, and compromise ocean carbon and nutrient cycles, the report warns.

Given the slow pace of deep-sea processes, destroyed habitats are unlikely to recover within human timescales. 

‘Industry wants us to think mining the deep sea is necessary to meet demand for minerals that go into electric vehicle batteries and the electronic gadgets in our pockets. But it’s not so.

‘We don’t have to trash the ocean to decarbonise. Instead, we should be directing our focus toward innovation and the search for less resource-intensive products and processes. We call on investors to look for innovative solutions and create a true circular economy that reduces the need to extract finite resources from the Earth.’

Leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative

The ocean economy

The report highlights that marine ecosystems are connected, and many species are migratory.

As a result, deep seabed mining cannot occur in isolation, and disturbances can easily cross jurisdictional boundaries.

Negative effects on global fisheries would threaten the main protein source of around 1 billion people and the livelihoods of around 200 million people, many in poor coastal communities.

‘Before mining and wrecking our seabed, which will degrade ocean health by affecting species, disturbing important areas for biodiversity and disrupting ecosystem functioning, we need to consider recycling existing materials, and being smarter about our production and consumption.

‘Supporting deep sea mining as an industry would go against the goal of transitioning to a circular economy and against the United Nations Agenda 2030 goals.’

Conservation and policy director at ANP|WWF in Portugal

The potential value of deep seabed mining has been estimated at $2-20 billion – a fraction of the much more valuable sustainable ocean economy, which annually generates a conservatively estimated $1.5-2.4 trillion, benefiting many states and coastal communities.

A moratorium on deep sea mining

In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on deep seabed mining that calls for an end both to subsidies for prospecting minerals on the international seabed and to permits for deep sea mining in areas within national jurisdiction.

This Friday (12 February), the EU Working Party on the Law of the Sea (EU-COMAR) will discuss the latest proposal from the European Commission suggesting to find a joint EU Member State position on deep sea mining issues at the International Seabed Authority.

WWF is calling for this position to include a moratorium on all deep seabed mining activities until the risks are understood and all alternatives to deep sea minerals have been explored.

‘If the EU is serious about achieving the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, it must commit to no deep seabed mining before we know and understand all the risks and impacts. As a first step, at Member State level, national plans for sustainable use of marine resources, due by 31 March, must be sure to cover all maritime sectors and activities, as well as area-based conservation-management measures.’

Head of ocean policy at the WWF European Policy Office

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