Calling for the protection of the ocean depths
There is good reason to be concerned about how much damage deep-sea mining could cause to the overall environment and the ocean in particular. The tension between the growing demand for metals that power renewable energy technologies and the impact on the earth of pursuing them is palpable. Our technological progress should not be to the detriment of ocean health.
Scientists fear the introduction of toxic metals into marine food networks, destruction of deep-sea habitats, and waste dispersal over long distances will have adverse and long-lasting effects on fisheries and delicate ecosystems like coral reefs. With potential to smother ocean life and wreak havoc on the blue economy it is vital that no deep-sea mining is permitted until enough information is available to understand the effects of such an undertaking.
Mining companies are looking to make a profit and decrease the cost of lithium and cobalt needed for electric car batteries as the demand for these vehicles increases, but manufacturers are not as quick to get onboard. BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung have lent their weight to calls for a moratorium. The suggestion is that instead of relying on what we do now, we can turn to alternative, less damaging metals, designing batteries that require fewer minerals in the first place and develop a circular economy with far better recycling.
Canada is among the members of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) - in charge of who can explore and, eventually mine, the deep ocean floor. It’s already given out 31 contracts to explore the deep sea for minerals. The countdown for the ISA to adopt its first set of exploitation regulations for deep-seabed mining could result in the green light for deep-seabed mining this year.
Canada issued a domestic moratorium on deep-sea mining, but stopped short of demanding a global ban. Meanwhile Living Oceans Society has shared the call for Canada to join the states demanding a moratorium on international water deep-sea mining and the recent petition to stop deep-sea mining.
All is not lost, there is much work being done to safeguard the long-term health, integrity and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems.
On 4 March, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) celebrated the finalization of a new High Seas Treaty at the United Nations (UN) in New York. Finalizing the Treaty is a historic win for our ocean and for everyone who has worked to achieve this breakthrough agreement. The Treaty enables the protection of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, including the deep ocean. It also sets obligations and procedures that governments party to the Treaty - many of which will be parties to the ISA and RFMOs - will need to follow. The Treaty further enshrines the principle that the resources of the high seas – including the seabed – are the “common heritage of humankind” to be protected and shared equitably. If implemented properly, the Treaty could become an invaluable tool in protecting vulnerable areas on the deep sea.
The Treaty will not enter into force until it has been ratified by 60 States. It is therefore imperative that States ratify the Treaty as quickly as possible. While the Treaty is a critical turning point, this new agreement will not stop DSM from beginning in the deep seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). The Treaty does not set any rules or regulations for mining at sea. As an immediate action, therefore, and building on the current political momentum for ocean protection, the DSCC calls on all States to support a moratorium, precautionary pause or a ban on DSM. We further call on the few flag States still allowing vessels to bottom trawl on seamounts in the high seas, to phase out the practice. To learn more about what the High Seas Treaty means for our work to protect the deep sea, read the DSCC talking points.