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Deep-sea mining sounds like something out of a science fiction novel – and indeed, the claims by companies hoping to extract metals from cobalt crusts, manganese nodules, and hydrothermal vents on deep sea beds do seem to have their basis in fiction more than fact. As yet, there are no viable deep-sea mining operations – but many companies and governments are hoping that will change.
Deep-sea mining is a high-risk, experimental industrial activity being proposed in one of the most fragile, unexplored areas of our planet. Far too little is known about the potential impacts of deep-sea mining on our oceans, marine life and fisheries. Many of these marine organisms haven’t even been discovered, let alone studied.
For the last 10 days, the International Seabed Authority has had its annual meetings in Kingston, Jamaica. You would think that an international body established under the United Nation’s Law of the Sea would make its first mission to protect the global oceans commons and the marine life that it holds. But thus far, that has not been the case.
The International Seabed Authority has already issued 26 licenses to explore 1.5 million square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean floor, as well as additional swaths of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and the Red Sea. Additional areas are being opened up to exploration every month – with little oversight, or understanding of the impacts of such immensely destructive industrial activity on marine life and ecosystems and communities that live in coastal regions.
The International Seabed Authority’s role must be to provide careful oversight and to implement the precautionary principle in order to protect ocean life. It cannot allow companies and governments to experiment with and profit from our global commons. It must promote research, oversight and protection of our deep ocean environments.
And international authorities and governments must come together to create deep-sea Marine Protected Areas as New Zealand did in 2015 by creating the 620,000 sq km Kermadec ocean sanctuary.
The ISA’s mission must be to protect oceans, not to serve a guide for how to exploit them. Its draft Mining Code must embody this mission, rather than carve up the ocean into serving size portions for risky commercial experiments.
By Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue – the Deep Sea Mining campaign is a project partner of Mission Blue
Thousands of meters beneath the azure ocean waters in places like the South Pacific, down through a water column saturated with life and to the ocean floor carpeted in undiscovered ecosystems, machines the size of small buildings are poised to begin a campaign of wholesale destruction. I wish this assessment was hyperbole, but it is the reality we find ourselves in today.
After decades of being on the back burner owing to costs far outweighing benefits, deep sea mining is now emerging as a serious threat to the stability of ocean systems and processes that have yet to be understood well enough to sanction in good conscience their large-scale destruction.
Critical to evaluating what is at stake are technologies needed to access the deep sea. The mining company, Nautilus Minerals, has invested heavily in mining machinery. However, resources needed for independent scientific assessment at those depths are essentially non-existent.
China is investing heavily in submersibles, manned and robotic, that are able to at least provide superficial documentation of what is in the deep ocean. Imagine aliens with an appetite for minerals flying low over New York City taking photographs and occasional samples and using them to evaluate the relative importance of the streets and buildings with no capacity to understand (or interest) in the importance of Wall Street, the New York Times, Lincoln Center, Columbia University or even the role of taxi cabs and traffic signals. They might even wonder whether or not those little two-legged things running around would be useful for something.
The International Seabed Authority, located in Jamaica and created under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is currently issuing permits for mining exploration. At the very least, might there be ways to issue something like “restraining orders” owing to the lack of proof that no harm will be done to systems critical to human needs? Or also at the very least protecting very (very, very) large areas where no mining will be allowed?
The role of life in the deep sea relating to the carbon cycle is vaguely understood, and the influence of the microbial systems (only recently discovered) and the diverse ecosystems in the water column and sea bed have yet to be thoughtfully analyzed. If a doctor could only see the skin of a patient, or sample what is underneath with tiny probes, how could internal functions be understood?
The rationale for exploiting minerals in the deep sea is based on their perceived current monetary value. The living systems that will be destroyed are perceived to have no monetary value. Will decisions about use of the natural world continue to be based on the financial advantage for a small number of people despite risks to systems that underpin planetary stability – systems that support human survival?
In the 1980s, when deep sea mining first became a hot topic, it seemed preposterous to think that humans could up-end planetary processes by burning fossil fuels, clear-cutting forests and oceans, producing exotic chemicals and materials and otherwise transforming – “taming” – the distillation of all preceding earth history for our immediate use.
Buried within the Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act of 1980, US legislation sponsored by Senator Lowell Weicker about deep sea mining, there is a provision that mandates for US interests to establish “Stable Reference Zones” of equal size and quality to those proposed for exploitation. The wording in this law was taken from a resolution crafted at the IUCN meeting in Ashkabad in 1978 that I helped draft and later took to Senator Weicker’s trusted scientific advisor, Robert Wicklund, for consideration.
The IUCN World Conservation Congress occurring this September in Hawaii provides a ripe opportunity to set in motion some significant and very timely actions that could help blunt the sharp edge of enthusiasm for carving up the deep ocean. Whatever it takes, there must be ways to elevate recognition of the critical importance of intact natural systems.
We need technologies to access the deep sea to independently explore and understand the nature of Earth’s largest living system. But most importantly, we need the will to challenge and change the attitudes, traditions and policies about the natural world that have driven us to burn through the assets as if there is no tomorrow.
This “as if” can be a reality – or not – depending on what we do now. Or what we fail to do. However, there is undeniably cause for hope: there is still time to choose.
[reposted from http://www.mission-blue.org/2016/06/18040/]
Aliens finally made it to planet Earth. And it just so happens these aliens value — above all else — the American quarter, those shiny metal pieces emblazoned with George Washington. Upon surveying the planet, the aliens note that the highest concentration of quarters are located on Manhattan Island. So, they deploy enormous mechanical arms that raze New York City, destroying icons of culture and human achievement hundreds of years in the making. What’s left is rubble strewn with quarters, which the aliens methodically gather up and stockpile. The aliens congratulate themselves on the efficiency and handsome profitability of their operation.
If this sounds like an absurd manner in which to value one of the greatest cities on Earth, that’s because it is. And while this story is fantasy, sadly the same mentality is playing out now on the floor of the ocean. For the better part of a century, humans have scraped the ocean floor with massive trawlers that level hundred-year-old corals and destroy diverse and unknown ecosystems in the pursuit of a singular, short-term value, whether it be cod, squid or shrimp destined for a plate thousands of miles away. The UN Secretary-General reported in 2006 that 95 percent of damage to seamount ecosystems worldwide is caused by deep sea bottom trawling. Now, in 2016, a new threat is emerging to the benthic ecosystems deep within the blue ocean: deep sea mining. According to our partners at the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, “the focus of deep sea mining (DSM) is the deposits laid down over thousands of years around underwater hot springs, or hydrothermal vents. For example Nautilus, a DSM project in the Pacific has secured or is in the process of applying for the exploration rights to 534,000 km2 of the sea floor in PNG, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Zealand. In addition, many other companies are waiting to see how Nautilus fares before taking the plunge themselves.”
The Deep Sea Mining (DSM) Campaign is an association of NGOs and citizens from the Pacific Islands, Australia, the US and Canada who are concerned about the likely impacts of DSM on marine and coastal ecosystems and local communities. The DSM Campaign started in late 2011 in response to the frenzy of sea bed exploration in the South Pacific. Approximately 1.5 million km2 of ocean floor is currently under exploration leasehold for deep seabed mining. The world’s first license to operate a deep sea mine has been granted in the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea to Canadian company Nautilus Inc. The DSM Campaign’s unique approach combines regional policy interventions, human rights, science based advocacy and working with local NGOs and community in PNG and the Pacific.
Those quarter-loving aliens might have said, “What’s the big deal? We can’t see the harm here.” Indeed, that’s the same tune that DSM interests are humming: the upside is huge, environmental concerns are overblown, operations will be safe, what could go wrong? The truth is no one — neither oceanographers or DSM companies — know very much at all about deep sea ecosystems. Remember, only 5% of the ocean has been directly observed by anyone. Some scientists believe that hydrothermal vents are where life first started on earth. If so, these environments and these ecosystems could provide insights into the evolution of life. This means that in the Pacific many species could become extinct before they have even been identified. And what about the potential toxicity of metals that will be released into the ocean water from DSM operations? Might they find their way into the food chain and contaminate seafood eaten by local communities? At the minimum, more study is needed to answer this basic and critical question.
Resource hungry nations are viewing Deep Sea Mining as the next gold rush. And momentum is building by the month. For example, check out these recent digital newspaper clippings:
Any observer to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe knows that corporations focused on profit from resource extraction cannot be relied upon to self-regulate for safety and responsible environmental stewardship. Deep Sea Mining is no different. Dr. Sylvia Earle has perhaps put it best: “It’s like a land grab. It’s a handful of individuals who are giving away or letting disproportionate special interests have access to large parts of the planet that just happen to be underwater. The vast expanses of the central Pacific seabed being opened up for mining are still largely an unknown. What are we sacrificing by looking at the deep sea with dollar signs on the few tangible materials that we know are there? We haven’t begun to truly explore the ocean before we have started aiming to exploit it.”
To join in the fight against Deep Sea Mining, read the information made available by our partners at the Deep Sea Mining Campaign. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Another good backgrounder is this Huffington Post article by Phil Pauley.
Wednesday June 1, 2016
TORONTO | As Nautilus Minerals holds its AGM in Toronto today, the Papua New Guinean Alliance of Solwara Warriors and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign encourage investors to think carefully about holding shares in this company.
Nautilus promotes its Solwara 1 sea bed mining project in the Bismarck Sea of Papua New Guinea as the lucrative new face of the mining industry, however, its most recent Annual Information Form found on www.sedar.com tells a different story.
According to Natalie Lowrey of the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, “The 2015 Annual Information Form lodged with the Canadian Securities Administrators reveals that the world first licensed sea bed mine is in fact a huge environmental, financial and technological experiment. The form admits that Nautilus has been too lazy and sloppy to perform standard economic and minerological assessments and that the environmental impacts of the operation are totally unknown.”
Patrick Kaupun, of the Alliance of Solwara Warriors stated, “The Annual information form unashamedly states in black and white that Nautilus’ Management considers it in the Company’s best interests to use Solwara 1 to test the operational viability of the Seafloor Production System and the impacts of sea bed mining. This is not in the best interests of Papua New Guineans. We will not accept this sea bed mine. We put Nautilus and investors on notice that we will resist this venture and you will bear the costs!”
Janet Tokupep, also from the Alliance of Solwara Warriors said, “Judging from the monster size of the machines that will be tested in our seas, there is no question that this new frontier industry will destroy our environment and communities in PNG and the Pacific. Our coastal communities live only 30 kilometres from the proposed mine site and our fishermen use the area around it daily. The serious liabilities associated with the risks of Solwara 1 make it a disastrous investment.”
“The startling and damning admissions by Nautilus Minerals, reveal that the business case for Solwara 1 is extremely weak and the risks for investors extremely high”, says Natalie Lowrey.
View the Nautilus Annual Information Form – attention to the section RISK FACTORS
For more info:
Papua New Guinea:
Patrick Kaupun, Alliance of Solwara Warriors, +675 72773815
Janet Tokupep, Alliance of Solwara Warriors, +675 73921840
Natalie Lowrey, Deep Sea Mining campaign, +61 421226200, email@example.com
This video is from a small action outside the 5th Annual Deep Sea Mining industry Summit in London on Tuesday 24th May 2016, in which the Australian-based Deep Sea Mining campaign, London Mining Network and War on Want (London) stand in solidarity with communities across the Pacific who are calling for a Ban on Experimental Seabed Mining in their seas. This experimental “frontier” industry is 21st century colonialism of the Pacific in which the EU are complicit in continuing the ‘empire’ tradition in which it has the right to rape and pillage the Pacific for its own profit. Over 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean floor are already under exploration leasehold across the South Pacific and the world’s first licence to operate a deep sea mine has been granted in Papua New Guinea to Canadian company Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 project in the Bismarck Sea. This is opposed by communities across Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
“We call on Papua New Guineans and allies internationally to stand up and defend the Bismarck Sea and all other seas under threat from seabed mining. Our government and Nautilus Minerals have not got the people’s free prior and informed consent. The sea is our life. We exist because the sea exists. We will not continue to remain quiet and passive. We have a responsibility to those generations that come after us; to those yet unborn.” – Patrick Kaupun, Alliance of Solwara Warriors
“Judging from the monster size of the machines that will be tested in our seas, there is no question that this new “frontier” industry will destroy our environment and communities in PNG and the Pacific. With such serious liabilities in the face of an untested and untried industry, including the fact that we currently have terrible track records of terrestrial mining, seabed mining is a disastrous investment.” – Janet Tokupep, Alliance of Solwara Warriors
From the Pacific to London:Ban Experimental Seabed Mining – http://bit.ly/1WfhMy4