Ben Radford, The Green Left
Transnational companies are forging ahead with plans to exploit the seafloor for valuable minerals, despite widespread concerns about the potential ecological and climate impacts. Large-scale deep-sea mining involves the extraction of polymetallic nodules, which are small rocks formed over millions of years containing cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese.
Mining companies are seeking to exploit an area of seafloor in the Pacific Ocean about the size of Europe, known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). Despite a lack of formal laws, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) — tasked with regulating deep-sea mining under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — has already granted 31 “exploration” permits to 22 contractors.
The Metals Company — a Canadian deep-sea mining company — completed a so-called “trial” in the CCZ in November last year, which environmental campaigners described as mining disguised as research. During the project, the mining vehicle disturbed more than 80 kilometres of seafloor and collected 4500 tonnes of nodules.
Missing from TMC’s slick video hailing the success of the project is the pollution from mining activities. Undercover videos obtained by Greenpeace, released in a joint statement with Deep Sea Mining Campaign and MiningWatch Canada on January 10, show wastewater being discharged from the ship Hidden Gem directly into the ocean.
A New York Times investigation last year revealed how the ISA has been captured by corporate interests — secretary-general Michael Lodge publicly supports deep-sea mining and has criticised scientists for voicing their concerns over the environmental impacts. The ISA approved the trial in September last year, despite its own Legal and Technical Commission having “serious concerns” with the project.
Catherine Coumans, from MiningWatch Canada, said that the ISA “played a significant role in the failures of this latest deep sea mining test and has also failed to publicise the unauthorised dumping of mine waste”.
“This test highlights the ISA’s lack of transparency and credibility as a regulator and the very immediate risks posed by deep sea mining on marine health and biodiversity of the ocean, our global commons,” Coumans said.
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