Deep sea mining

Noise of deep sea mining harms marine life, scientists warn

A new study argues that mining in the deep sea could further harm whale populations around the world and urges companies to further assess the impact of sound pollution.

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Toby Matthews & Jeff Hester

As the electric vehicle market is booming, demand for metals such as copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese that are needed for the manufacturing of EV car batteries is growing. Many companies are therefore looking to the sea bed to meet future demands. A new study, however, warns that deep sea mining could do irreparable damage to whale populations and other marine life.

Published by Greenpeace Research Laboratories and the University of Exeter in Frontiers in Marine Science, the study urges that further extensive research is needed before deep sea mining operations begin. It further argues that the resulting noise pollution could cause significant damage marine life.

“Imagine if your neighbourhood was suddenly disrupted by construction work that goes on 24/7, your life would change dramatically. Your mental health would be compromised, you might change your behaviour to escape from it. It’s no different for whales or dolphins,” explains University of Exeter’s Dr Kirsten Thompson.

So far, deep sea mining impact assessments have focused on seabed species to some extent but haven’t fully covered the impact on cetaceans. Whales and dolphins rely on acoustic sounds to communicate – often over vast distances. Deep sea mining machines, however, could produce various sounds at different depths for up to 24 hours a day that could interfere with species’ ability to communicate and result in behaviour change, while adding to ever-growing stressors.

“Deep seabed mining operations, if permitted, could present significant risks to
ocean ecosystems. Disturbance on any scale is likely to be long lasting and irreversible,” the study reads. According to it, the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) between Mexico and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean with an area of around 11,650,000 km2 is of particular interest to mining companies. The area is also a well-known habitat for many cetacean species and 17 exploratory mining contracts have already been granted in this part of the Pacific Ocean.

The IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group currently lists five cetacean species as ‘critically endangered’, as well as an additional 19 sub-species or populations. Currently 12 species are listed as ‘endangered’, while the population status of a large number of species can’t be determined due to insufficient data. That’s why the scientists behind the study urge for more research and additional discussions between cetacean and deep sea specialists.

Although deep sea mining companies have not received the green light to begin mining commercially, some “are asking governments for the green light for the first time this July”, according to reporting by The Guardian. Some EV manufacturers have pledged to abstain from deep sea mining until more research has been done, while backing a moratorium.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Toby Matthews & Jeff Hester

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