Deep sea mining: A new way forward or looming disaster?

Supporters say deep sea mining is needed to meet the global demand for green technologies; scientists fear a possible gold rush for precious metals beneath the oceans

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 12 July 2023

On July 10, 2023, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) began a three-week-long discussion in Jamaica.

Talks such as these are crucial as controversial proposals to allow deep sea mining are set to take centre stage. Moreover, many countries and private institutions are proposing deep sea mining as a source to extract minerals to promote the world’s push for green technology. So, what exactly is this all about?

Deep sea mining involves extracting ores rich in cobalt, manganese, zinc and other rare metals from the sea floor. These rare metals build batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones and laptops.

Several countries, including India, have their eyes set on deep sea mining. However, experts have raised an alarm over the potentially harmful impacts on ocean biodiversity.

“There is not enough rigorous scientific information available concerning the biology, ecology and connectivity of deep-sea species and ecosystems, or all the ecosystem services they provide and without this information, one could not understand the potential risks of the mining activity for deep-ocean biodiversity, ecosystems and human well-being,” Jessica Battle, expert on global ocean governance and policy, The World Wide Fund for Nature, has said.

The debate regarding deep sea mining was triggered by Nauru, a tiny island northeast of Australia after formally requesting a commercial licence from the ISA in 2021. In doing so, it gave the ISA a 2-year deadline to develop regulations for deep sea mining. That deadline was July 9, 2023.

Some 18 states have taken positions against deep sea mining in international waters. They are calling for a pause or moratorium on the practice over environmental concerns and could be given the chance to vote on a new ban over the next month.

The supporters, on the other hand, argue that these minerals are needed if the world is to meet the demand for green technologies.

The International Energy Agency has projected that achieving net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions would see mineral demand quadruple for clean energy technologies.

But scientists fear a possible ‘gold rush’ for precious metals beneath the oceans could have a huge impact on marine life, especially in the form of noise and light pollution.

Whatever happens in Jamaica, the decisions made at these ISA meetings will be pivotal in shaping the future of deep sea mining regulations.

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