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Marine Science



Environmental groups say no to deep-sea mining. Environmental groups in the Pacific call on Lord Zac Goldsmith to say ‘yes’ to marine protection and human rights and ‘no’ to deep-sea mining.

Organisations including the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Te Ipukarea Society, Pacific Islands Association of Non-governmental Organisations (PIANGO), and the Pacific Youth Council have sent a joint letter to Lord Goldsmith calling for urgent action to prevent the irreversible loss of biodiversity and harmful impacts on livelihoods that would occur if the emerging extractive deep-sea mining industry were to go ahead.

The call for support comes as momentum builds across the region to protect the health of the ocean from the threat of deep-sea mining with groups including PIANGO, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), The World Council of Churches and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) leading a call for a Pacific Blue Line and ban on the destructive industry.

The joint letter highlights to the Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment that “Developed countries like the United Kingdom that consume disproportionate amounts of resources share a responsibility for addressing overexploitation of natural resources  and the climate and biodiversity crisis, which are a front-line Pacific reality. It is time to stop using the Pacific to provide the North’s resources at the expense of our environment.”

The letter’s signatories specifically call on Lord Goldsmith to support a global moratorium on deep-sea mining, including  the adoption of regulations for exploitation and the issuing of exploitation and new exploration contracts unless and until the environmental, social and economic risks and the technology are understood.

The letter emphasises  the value of the ocean in Pacific culture and the interconnectedness of ocean and human health and wellbeing, not just in the region but for the international community too.  “It is our role – indeed our cultural obligation – to care for the whole Ocean and maintain the ecosystem services it provides for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. As much as the Ocean needs our guardianship, we need a healthy, thriving Ocean for our continued well-being and livelihoods.”

Deep-sea mining threatens to destroy the seabed and undermine the health of the ocean by strip-mining minerals from the seabed, including copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese that form integral components of deep-sea ecosystems for short term economic gain.

Not only would this extractive, non-renewable industry directly destroy ecosystems and species that are only just being discovered and understood, but it would inflict wider damage on the ocean through the discharge of toxic wastewater and plumes of sediment, as deep-sea mining machines churn up the seafloor-  likened to underwater dust clouds. These wider impacts could negatively impact fish, with the potential for harmful effects on tuna fisheries, which communities across the Pacific depend on.

The emerging non renewable industry could also disturb some of the largest greenhouse gas sinks on the planet, potentially exacerbating the climate crisis at a time when it is clearer than ever that reducing human pressures on the planet is essential to our long-term survival.

As a significant source of the planet’s genetic diversity, damage to deep-sea ecosystems could also result in the loss of future medicines- the COVID-19 test was derived from the deep-sea. The multitude of threats that deep-sea mining would pose to ocean health is leading many scientists across the world to advocate for a precautionary approach, or moratorium, highlighting the need for more information on the damage that mining the deep will inflict on nature before activities could go ahead.

The letter also disputes the very need for the metals that proponents of deep-sea mining are seeking to mine from the ocean, highlighting that a Tongan seabed mining contractor Tonga Offshore Minerals Ltd that there are enough metal-bearing deposits on land to meet the needs of the clean energy transition.

The Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Te Ipukarea Society, PIANGO, and the Pacific Youth Council have reached out to Lord Goldsmith for a virtual meeting.

Image credit: NOAA