Deep-Sea Mining is Coming: Assessing the Potential Impacts
Amplify’d from e360.yale.edu
Numerous companies are moving ahead rapidly with plans to mine copper, gold, and other minerals near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. But in an interview with Yale Environment 360, marine biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover warns that without environmental safeguards the unique ecosystems of deep-sea vents could be severely damaged.
Deep-sea mining is attracting growing interest from mining companies and could begin in earnest in just a few years. Two firms — Canada’s Nautilus Minerals and Australia’s Bluewater Metals — have stepped up exploration of underwater mountain ranges in the South Pacific. China and Russia have expressed interest in mining the seabed below the Indian and Atlantic oceans, respectively. And a recent report by Nautilus suggests the deep ocean produces several billion tons of minerals each year, including vast amounts of copper.
As the prospect of undersea mining grows ever more likely, one major question looms: Can these valuable minerals be extracted on a large scale without causing significant environmental damage, particularly to the unique ecosystems near the deep hydrothermal vents where the minerals accumulate?
One scientist seeking to address this question is Duke University marine biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover, who was one of the first researchers to explore hydrothermal vents, cataloguing numerous species of animals and microbes living in a part of the ocean that biologists once assumed was barren. Today, much of her work is focused on figuring out how drilling into the seabed might disrupt newly discovered life forms, such as the giant tubeworms that thrive near the vents.Read more at e360.yale.edu
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Van Dover compared the deep sea to America’s Wild West and cautioned that wildlife losses could be similar if mining companies and the International Seabed Authority — the regulatory agency in charge of the ocean’s mineral resources — fail to establish environmentally sound mining practices before deep-sea exploitation begins. To this end, she has gone on research trips with Nautilus Minerals, the Canadian mining company, and is advising the company on conservation issues. But time is short, and Van Dover says she is continually surprised by how swiftly deep-sea mining is developing. “When I heard in 2005 that people were serious about wanting to mine hydrothermal vents, I just laughed,” said Van Dover. “Those of us in the biological community just didn’t think mining was going to happen for decades.”
See this Amp at http://bit.ly/efTNqM