Deep Sea Mining: Is it Worth the Risk and Money?
Should Deep Sea Mining commence? Should it be banned? Or is there a neutral perspective?
by Pranav Arun
When people think of the deep sea, most would think of a dark and barren wasteland with little life. However, this stereotype is very flawed. In fact, at the very bottom of our oceans, exists a mineral-rich floor with undisturbed biodiversity. Animals such as tubeworms, crabs, shrimp, and smaller types of fish thrive at the lowest reaches of the oceans, often near hydrothermal vents that provide energy to grow. On the abyssal plain at the ocean floor, bioluminescent creatures feed off of the remains of animals from the sunlit zones of the ocean.
We have yet to explore many of these creatures, and our knowledge of these ecosystems are limited. However, corporations and investors are more interested in the abiotic features of the deep sea, especially the minerals that exist on the abyssal plains and near the hydrothermal vents. If successfully mined, these minerals could result in generous profits for prospective investors and supply ample amounts of necessary minerals for our daily lives. Nonetheless, mining of these materials can have disastrous consequences, affecting the well-being of the smaller ecosystems living in the deep ocean.
Here is where the trilemma is presented: should deep-sea mining commence to successfully make a profit off of necessary minerals, should it be banned to ensure the protection of these ecosystems we do not know much about, or is there a neutral side?
The Supporting Side: People for Deep-Sea Mining
Deep-sea mining of manganese, cobalt, and nickel has the potential to become a profitable industry for a number of reasons. According to the International Seabed Authority, these metals are essential for the manufacturing of batteries and other high-tech products, such as electric cars and smartphones. With the global demand for these products rising, the demand for these metals is also increasing. According to a report by the World Bank, the market for these metals is expected to reach $3 billion by 2030. This presents a significant opportunity for mining companies to capitalize on this growing demand and make a profit.
In addition to the growing demand for these metals, deep-sea mining has the potential to be more cost-effective than traditional land-based mining. According to the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, deep-sea mining does not require the clearing of forests or the displacement of communities, and it produces less waste and pollution. Furthermore, the deposits of these metals in the deep sea are often of higher quality and concentration than those found on land. This means that mining companies could extract more of these metals with less effort and cost, leading to higher profit margins.
The private investors that surround companies such as Neptune Minerals and Ocean Minerals LLC are the main ones that benefit from this view, along with the actual companies. If this approach becomes more widespread, it will also benefit the economy through the addition of a new industry to add on to the traditional mining industry.
The Opposing Side: People for Deep-Sea Environmental Protection
Deep-sea mining has been a controversial issue due to the environmental concerns surrounding it. Disruption caused by wide-scale deep-sea mining would ruin the pristineness of the one ecosystem that humans have not touched yet. The deep sea is home to a diverse range of species, many of which are unique and have not yet been fully studied. The impact of deep-sea mining on these ecosystems is still largely unknown, but there is a risk that it could lead to irreversible damage. According to a report by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign, the removal of seabed minerals could disrupt food chains and destroy habitats, potentially leading to the extinction of species.
Another major concern is the potential release of toxic chemicals into the ocean floor. The process of mining and refining these minerals requires the use of chemicals and other substances that could harm the environment. For example, the extraction of manganese nodules can release heavy metals and other contaminants into the water, which could have devastating consequences for marine life. Additionally, the removal of minerals from the seabed could cause sediment plumes, which can smother and suffocate deep-sea creatures.
There is also concern about the long-term impacts of deep-sea mining on climate change. According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the mining of manganese nodules in the deep sea could release up to 170 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the effects of climate change. Given these concerns, it is essential that any plans for deep-sea mining be approached with caution and that measures are put in place to mitigate the potential environmental impact.
This stance on deep-sea mining heavily concerns ocean exploration groups that support deep-sea exploration just to learn more about the ecosystems and the deep ocean rather than to take a profit from it. It also heavily concerns the governmental organizations responsible for regulating deep sea mining and exploration, as they could play a role in limiting the influence of private exploration companies.
The Possible Neutral Side
In this Trilemma, we have explored two very different sides, one relating to the making of a profit and one relating to the preservation of the environment. In this case, how would one meet these two sides in a possible neutral side? This could possibly be done in a step-by-step approach that tries to uphold the values of both of these perspectives.
First, ocean exploration groups will take a leading hand in mapping the more biodiverse areas of the deep ocean, until they have isolated the areas where almost no life exists farther away from the hydrothermal vents. The private mining companies will also reform their approaches to mining until the level of emissions and the pollution in the deep sea is as low as possible. Then, as the more biodiverse areas of the deep ocean are preserved, the more barren areas with more abiotic value will be mined using these safer methods to procure a profit without having a significant impact on the environment. In conclusion, this trilemma greatly puts two opposing values against each other, but neutral ground requiring compromise can eventually be reached.