In a recent study, a new analysis of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a vast mineral-rich area in the Pacific Ocean, estimates the existence of some 5,000 sea animals that are completely new to science. The study indicates that deep-sea mining for resources required to transition to a low-carbon economy, such as copper and cobalt, could adversely impact this hitherto unexplored marine biodiversity.
The ocean floor in the CCZ hosts one of the largest assemblages of polymetallic nodules, which are potato-sized mineral deposits formed by the accumulation of metallic elements over millions of years. These nodules are critical to the global transition to a low-carbon economy, serving as a rich source of the raw materials needed for electric vehicle batteries and other renewable energy technologies.
Deep-sea mining advocates argue that underwater extraction has fewer ethical and environmental trade-offs compared to land-based mining, and can be performed with the least planetary impact. However, the study’s findings underscore the potential environmental consequences of underwater mining, as little is known about the species and ecosystems discovered in the CCZ. It is a surprisingly high-diversity environment, fostering unique life forms like the neon-yellow ‘gummy squirrel’ sea cucumber and the Casper octopus.
Over 700 marine science and policy experts have called for a pause on deep-sea mining until adequate and robust scientific data about its potential environmental impact is obtained. Concerns have been raised about potential harm to fisheries, the release of carbon stored in the seabed, and the introduction of sediment plumes into the water.
Despite these concerns, companies like the Metals Company aim to start mining the seafloor by late 2024 or early 2025. Environmentalists are urging the International Seabed Authority, a U.N.-chartered body, to issue comprehensive regulations around underwater mining. They argue that more time is needed to ensure mining operations can be conducted safely and without causing irreversible damage to marine ecosystems.