Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster

Posted on February, 10 2021

New report, “In Too Deep: What We Know, And Don’t Know, About Deep Seabed Mining,” outlines likely impacts of deep seabed mining on ecosystems and biodiversity, and risks of allowing industry to proceed.
Lisbon, 10 February 2021 – The investigation “In Too Deep: What We Know, And Don’t Know, About Deep Seabed Mining”, released today by WWF, argues that there are many unknowns and much to do in ocean science, policy and industry innovations before any deep seabed mining activities should be allowed to take place.

WWF says industry plans to mine the deep seabed for metals and minerals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel would have a destructive impact on deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity, which could have knock-on effects on fisheries, livelihoods and food security, and compromise ocean carbon and nutrient cycles.

“Industry wants us to think mining the deep sea is necessary to meet demand for minerals that go into electric vehicle batteries and the electronic gadgets in our pockets. But it’s not so,” says Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “We don’t have to trash the ocean to decarbonize. Instead, we should be directing our focus toward innovation and the search for less resource-intensive products and processes. We call on investors to look for innovative solutions and create a true circular economy that reduces the need to extract finite resources from the Earth.”

The report outlines key environmental and social risks of deep seabed mining, and debunks industry claims about the need for the practice and its ability to mitigate harm. Given the slow pace of deep-sea processes, destroyed habitats are unlikely to recover within human timescales.

The report highlights that marine ecosystems are connected, and many species are migratory. Therefore, deep seabed mining cannot occur in isolation, and disturbances can easily cross jurisdictional boundaries. Negative effects on global fisheries would threaten the main protein source of around 1 billion people and the livelihoods of around 200 million people, many in poor coastal communities.

The potential value of deep seabed mining has been estimated at US$2-20 billion 1 -- a fraction of the much more valuable sustainable ocean economy, which annually generates a conservatively estimated US$1.5-2.4 trillion, benefiting many states and coastal communities.

WWF, as well as many other organisations, political leaders and scientists, is calling for a global moratorium on deep seabed mining unless and until the environmental, social and economic risks are comprehensively understood; all alternatives to adding more minerals into the resource economy are exhausted; and it is clearly demonstrated that deep seabed mining can be managed in a way that ensures the effective protection of the marine environment and prevents loss of biodiversity.

Catarina Grilo, Conservation and Policy Director at ANP|WWF in Portugal reinforced that “before mining and wrecking our seabed, which will degrade ocean health by affecting species, disturbing important areas for biodiversity and disrupting ecosystem functioning, we need to consider recycling existing materials, and being smarter about our production and consumption. Supporting deep sea mining as an industry would go against the goal of transitioning to a circular economy and against the United Nations Agenda 2030 goals.”

WWF promotes a transformational change to a sustainable, “blue” economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations; restores, protects and maintains the diversity, productivity and resilience of marine ecosystems; and is based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows. 
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For further information, please contact:
Rita Rodrigues - ANP|WWF | Tel: +351 962911072 |
Gretchen Lyons - WWF |
Illustration of impact of deep seabed mining.