The deep sea a place mostly undiscovered and unregulated, is now facing large-scale industrial exploitation as mining of the deep seabed for minerals becomes a reality.
The knowledge-sharing forum, Pacific Solution Exchange is hosting an e-discussion across the Pacific on the potential trans-boundary environmental impacts given that deep sea mining operations may happen soon within sovereign Exclusive Economic Zones.
Prompting the Pacific-wide discussion is Pacific Political Advisor for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, Ms Seni Nabou.
“As terrestrial minerals become depleted and prices rise, the search for new sources of supply is turning to the sea floor and many non-governmental organisations remain concerned at the haste in which exploration and mining is taking place,” Nabou said. “While harvesting these resources could provide a much-needed economic boost to many Pacific Island countries, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and a coalition of Pacific Regional Non-Governmental Organisations are concerned about the rush to deep seabed mining and have called for a halt to it in the Pacific region.” Nabou explained, “This emerging industry, facilitated greatly by advances in technology, poses a major threat to our oceans, which are already suffering from a number of pressures including overfishing, pollution, and the effects of climate change.”
The discussion has received contributions from researchers, scientists, government officials, practitioners and experts from the Pacific and other parts of the world that have shared their thoughts on the environmental implications of deep sea mining.
Some commentators expressed concern about the potential impacts on species dependent on hydrothermal vents, where one type of seabed minerals is found. The need for better understanding about possible impacts of sediment plumes on marine life was also highlighted.
Deep Sea Minerals Project Legal Adviser from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Hannah Lily shared that deep sea environments have hardly been studied. She stated that there are different types of deep sea mineral deposits, each with different biological environments, and the extraction techniques will vary between types. It is therefore difficult to predict impacts without knowing the specific technicalities of the proposed operations and details of a specific site.
Lily noted that in some cases “Scientists predict the direct impacts of seabed mining are likely to be localised to the mining site, due to the high pressure and low current in the deep ocean, which will restrict sediment dispersal.”
She added, “If this is correct, then direct trans-boundary impacts may be considered unlikely, unless perhaps a mining site is allocated right next to a boundary and risk of dispute over mineral rights may well pre-empt that, but the probability of indirect impacts bears further investigation.”
A few members shared the view that mining can be done but in a safe manner with strict limits of damage to the environment and major penalties for breaches.
Others are critical of the fact that very little is known about what lies deep within the ocean and therefore prefer it untouched because the consequences are unclear.
The discussion continues until 4 October 2013, with people invited to join for free the Pacific Solution Exchange (PSE) community if they want to become part of the conversation.
PSE is an email-based knowledge sharing service that enables people across the Pacific to ask each other queries and share answers, insights, experiences and lessons learned to help each other in their climate change and disaster risk work. It has over 1500 members including practitioners, students, government, concerned elders, and community members in remote islands. PSE is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Centre with support from Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)