Is Deep-Sea Mining Bad?

Newsweek broaches this subject discussing the move by China to being exploring the mining of massive sulfide deposits, i.e. hydrothermal vents.  Samantha Smith from Nautilus, another company exploring mining in PNG states “We’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure that ecosystems and biodiversity are maintained.” But I am one unconvinced much as I was nearly 3 years ago when I wrote my first deep-sea mining post. Deep-sea mining continues to be on our radar and it should be on yours to.  Why am I skeptical?

  1. Seafloor mining would create sediment plumes that would smother organisms relying on filter feeding.
  2. Removal of hydrothermal vents, even extinct, could potential expose non-vent organisms to toxic levels of heavy metals.  These species, unlike those occurring at vents, are not adapted for this exposure.
  3. Mining operations are not delicate processes and as such unintentional destruction of nearby habitats is likely.  In my experience with one ton plus, remote operated vehicles precisions movements are often not possible.
  4. The economic incentive lies with continued and total removal of vent fields not with their protection.  Will mining companies exercise discretion.  Lessons from terrestrial mining indicate they will not.

Prior DSN posts about mining the seafloor

Dr. M (1618 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.