IUCN Calls for Moratorium on Seabed Mining

No to Sea Bed Mining - IUCN World Conservation Congress

A motion rejecting deep-sea mining was largely supported by delegates at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which met last week in Marseille, France. The motion calls for a moratorium on extracting minerals from deep below the ocean surface, as well as reforms for the International Seabed Authority, which is responsible for regulation. Interest in deep-sea mining has heated up as a place to source minerals like nickel, cobalt, and copper needed for renewable energy. Proponents of mining argue that it is necessary in the transition to clean energy.

"It sends a clear and resounding message to the International Seabed Authority that there is no social license and no global appetite to mine the deep sea," Farah Obaidullah of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) told Mongabay.

IUCN: World Conservation Congress in Marseille - highlights, September 10, 2021.

Why This Matters

The rejection of deep-sea mining is a win for the ocean and marine life. Mining activities could cause irreparable damage to the midwater zone of the ocean -- which lies deeper than the sun can reach -- by sending out plumes of sediment and noise pollution. And because the ocean is a carbon sink that absorbs about 30% of the CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it for millennia, deep-sea mining worsens climate change by disrupting stores and releasing them at unnatural rates.

A moratorium on this type of extraction reduces these risks, and saves marine life from cascading impacts, including disrupting their communication and making it harder for them to find food. But it’s important to keep the deep ocean off-limits to extraction, experts say, to prevent a rush on profits that push aside the damage.

"The big problem we have is that once the International Seabed Authority opens the door to mining, it will be almost impossible to close it," Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the DSCC, told Mongabay.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Value Beyond View - The Ocean Twilight Zone, Jan 22, 2020.

What Lies Beneath

The part of the ocean that just earned a bit more protection is "an ecosystem about which we know pathetically little," as David Attenborough has said. Many species living at these depths have yet to be discovered, and deep-sea mining would likely wipe them out for good as resources are scarce that far underwater. As the Guardian put it: "At these depths, where food and energy are limited, life proceeds at an extraordinarily slow rate. Populations could take centuries to recover."

What scientists do know is that living in these deep sea spaces are polychaete worms, sea cucumbers, corals, and squid, which would be harmed by dredging. They also recently discovered that octopuses lay their eggs in sponges attached to the nodules that deep-sea mining would extract.