‘Imminent threat’: plans to mine the bottom of the ocean raise concerns as Canada announces moratorium

The Narwhal

Underwater mining to make batteries could create ‘a massive deadzone’ on the ocean floor. Canada has issued a temporary domestic ban — but regulating international waters is trickier

Francesca Fionda, The Narwhal

In a world obscured from humanity lies a dark, lush ecosystem full of unique creatures. The range of lifeforms is bewildering. Among mountain ranges and volcanic peaks you’ll find a creature with ten tentacles growing from its head, a carnivorous sponge that looks like a tree of ping-pong balls and a soft, leathery ball of spikes. They live among small rock deposits that formed over millions of years. 

But now their home is being threatened. Humans have discovered the deposits are rich in valuable minerals — their plan is to colonize this alien ecosystem and extract the deposits.

This is not the teaser to James Cameron’s next science-fiction thriller. It’s called deep-sea mining and it could be coming to an ocean near you.

With depleting resources on land and a growing demand for metals, deep-sea mining in international waters could start soon, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global environmental network.  

On Thursday, Natural Resources Canada Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Canada’s position is that seabed mining should not be allowed without a rigorous regulatory structure in place. He effectively confirmed a moratorium in domestic waters, as Canada has no legal framework to permit deep-sea mining. In a joint statement, Wilkinson and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray said Canada would also push for international regulations to ensure seabed mining in international waters does not cause serious environmental harm. The ministers stopped short, however, of calling for a moratorium in international waters.


For Catherine Coumans, a research coordinator with MiningWatch Canada, “it’s deeply disappointing” that the government did not call for a ban on deep-sea mining in international waters.

“Deep-sea mining would create the largest mining area on earth and a massive deadzone on our ocean floor,” she said.

“What we need is for this to be stopped in its tracks,” and for Canada to join other countries like France and New Zealand that have called for a ban or moratorium, Coumans said. “That’s where Canada needs to be. Anything short of that is a dismal failure in my regard.” 


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