The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian mining firm and one of the leading industry players, conducted a test in the Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii last year. However, scientists hired by the company to monitor the operation were concerned by what they saw and posted a video of what they deemed to be a flawed process that accidentally released sediment into the ocean. The scientists also claimed the company failed in its environmental monitoring strategy.
As the race for deep-sea mining heats up, experts are growing increasingly concerned that companies will release clouds of sediment, which could contain toxic heavy metals that could harm marine life. At least 700 scientists, along with France, Germany, and Chile, are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
TMC acknowledged the incident but described it as a “minor event” in which a small amount of sediment was released into the ocean. The company claimed to have fixed the issue to prevent further overflows and concluded that the incident “did not have the potential to cause serious harm”. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), an UN-affiliated agency set up to regulate deep-sea mining, stated that its preliminary assessment “identified no threat of harm to the environment,” but it was waiting for a more detailed report from the company.
While many of the technologies used in deep-sea mining were developed decades ago, the incident highlights the challenges of fine-tuning equipment for use in the field. Companies are rushing to scavenge the ocean floor for metals used in electric vehicle batteries and other technologies, such as green energy production, in a global battle for a stable supply.
Investors in deep-sea mining include Danish logistics giant Maersk and commodity multinational Glencore, indicating the high hopes that the industry has for unearthing new sources of critical metals. However, the push for deep-sea mining is becoming increasingly controversial. Two years ago, major battery users, including Google, Samsung, Volvo, and BMW, joined a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) call for a moratorium on seabed mining over fears of lasting environmental damage.
Scientists hired by TMC and its subcontractors claim that the sediment monitoring plan was developed without full consideration of how sediment plumes (debris kicked up from mining the sea floor) actually work and that those tasked with overseeing the efforts had little experience working with the plumes. In one instance, scientists allege that a subcontractor on the project generated a disturbance after mining operations weren’t going as planned. The data obtained was deemed “uncontrolled and unscientific” and largely useless.
As the push for deep-sea mining continues, it’s crucial that we acknowledge the potential harm it could cause to our oceans and the creatures that call it home. We must demand that companies take their environmental responsibilities seriously and ensure that the technologies they use are safe and sustainable. The future of our oceans and the life within it depend on it. Take action now by signing petitions and supporting organizations that are fighting to protect our oceans from the dangers of deep-sea mining.
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