Claims by deep sea mining companies and some Pacific nations that mining the ocean floor has no environmental impacts have been dealt a major blow.
Three weeks ago, the Natural History Museum in London reported that 30 new marine species had been discovered in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific.
The report was released after the International Seabed Authority had finished its meeting in Jamaica where the main focus was how to set the legislative framework for deep sea mining.
After Nauru’s invocation of the two year rule as set by the ISA, mining could start in July 2023.
The expedition into the geological submarine fracture measuring 7240km covering five million square kilometres between Mexico and Hawaii was done by a team of scientists from England and Hawaii.
The Clarion-Clipperton zone is rich in minerals such as cobalt, nickel, magnesium and copper which are found in manganese nodules.
These nodules lie on the seabed along the zone and have been found in areas that are designated to Pacific island nations.
The seabed in the region holds the key components required for the manufacture of batteries that would power electronics in the future.
The Cook Islands, Kiribati, Tonga, and Nauru act as sponsor states for exploration permits in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in accordance with UNCLOS regulations administered by the International Seabed Authority.
The expedition, named the DeepCCZ, found a range of extremely rare micro-fauna from starfish to sea cucumbers living on the seabed.
A remote operated vehicle was used for the expedition. Leader of research group Adrian Glover told the Natural History Museum there was high chance the megafauna was much more diverse.
“However, we have never really had much information on the larger animals we call megafauna as so few samples have been collected,” he said.
“This study is the first to suggest that diversity may be high in these groups as well.”
The objective of the mission was to understand the effects of deep sea mining on the Clarion-Clipperton zone’s ecosystem.
The lead author on the new study Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, told the Natural History Museum there were many challenges while identifying the new species.
“We thought that some of the species we found were cosmopolitan, living across large areas of the ocean, but by looking more closely at their DNA we found that they are different species, possibly restricted to smaller habitats,” he said.
“There are probably not yet enough samples to understand the variation within them fully.”
The Natural History Museum aims to do a more comprehensive study so a better picture can be painted of what would happen if the green light is given to start deep sea mining.
The discovery of the new species may stop or suspend deep sea mining from taking place and is a huge setback for mining companies that hope to make billions.
More comprehensive data is required to show what will happen if the mining process does start.
The call from conservation groups are for a complete ban on deep sea mining because there is not enough scientific data to show what will happen if deep sea mining is allowed to take place.
Pacific island states such as Palau, Fiji, Samoa, and now the Federated States of Micronesia have joined an alliance to call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
The moratorium has been called so enough scientific evidence can be collected to show what could happen if deep sea mining is allowed without knowing what the actual impact of such an activity could have on the ecosystem from the ocean floor to the shallows.
Greenpeace was invited as an observer to the ISA meeting in Jamaica and Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner James Hita accused the ISA of drafting plans behind closed doors, and shutting out the communities that would be impacted first and hardest.
“Greenpeace is part of an alliance of Pacific nations, scientists, youth activists and civil society organisations calling for a moratorium on the industry which could wreak havoc on one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems and exacerbate climate change,” Mr Hita said.
The Metals Company is one of the key companies that is being backed by Nauru and recent reports showed that the company had signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a nodule processing plant in India.
The Pacific Advocate asked both The Metals Company and it’s representative in Nauru what they thought of the scientific discovery made by the Natural History Museum in London, however received no response
July 2023 is less than a year away and the only thing stalling deep sea mining is the legal framework which is yet to be developed.
Once that is done, companies are ready to pick the nodules from the sea floor without hesitation or consideration of what it could do to the ecosystem.