Sea-bed mining — count the true costs

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is negotiating a mining code to allow commercial deep-sea mining of minerals to start worldwide. At Greenpeace, we argue that we should instead be developing a sustainable circular economy that reduces the use of virgin materials.

There is a huge demand for minerals in the computing, renewable-energy and mobility sectors. So far, the ISA has approved 29 exploration contracts in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Next year, the Canadian company Nautilus Minerals plans to mine copper, zinc and gold at depths of 1,500–2,000 metres in waters off Papua New Guinea.

In our view, the ISA should take more account of the biological and ecological impact of these mining activities. It conspicuously lacks an environmental committee, for example. Proper oversight is crucial, because sea-bed mining risks wiping out pristine habitat and potentially unknown species.

Mining-induced loss of biodiversity in the deep sea is likely to last forever on human timescales, given the slow natural rates of recovery in affected ecosystems (C. L. van Dover et al. Nature Geosci. 10, 464–465; 2017). We should instead be recycling the valuable materials contained in the 90% or so of the world’s electronic waste that is currently illegally traded or dumped (see also go.nature.com/2toh2vr).

Nature 557, 31 (2018)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05016-0


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