Mining on the seafloor could provide a treasure trove for businesses seeking precious and base metals and other resources. But it could also destroy fragile ecosystems that humanity has yet to touch, scientists at the University of Exeter in Britain and Greenpeace are warning.
Writing in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the researchers said investors and others pondering seabed extraction should think about whether they should focus their efforts on developing more sustainable economic models.
“This ‘gold rush’ is being driven by our ever-growing demand for minerals,” said David Santillo, a marine biologist and senior Greenpeace scientist based at the University of Exeter, in a press release. “Should we allow seabed mining – with the risk it poses to deep-sea ecosystems – or should we focus instead on reducing this demand for virgin minerals?”
Their findings come as the United Nations is considering a new treaty to protect marine life and natural resources that could go into effect in 2020.
“The deep sea is beyond the jurisdiction of any single state and we need more joined-up global governance to prevent biodiversity loss from human activities”, said University of Exeter Marine Biologist Kirsten Thompson, a study co-author. “Some areas targeted for seabed mining are known to be hotspots for biodiversity, including habitat for endemic corals and nursery grounds for sharks.”
Santillo and his colleagues suggested more recycling, marine protected areas and more studies into how to sustainably gain from maritime resources.
“Many marine scientists are concerned that, once the first commercial contract for mining is issued, there will be no going back,” said University of Exeter and Greenpeace researcher Kathryn Miller, another study author. “Before that happens, we should be absolutely certain that we have looked carefully at all the other options for a more sustainable future.”
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