Bringing the Ocean to Society
26 Feb 2018
EurOcean to go as deep as possible in 2018
Check out why deep sea mining is the hot topic of both our MARINA workshops in 2018.

Deep-sea mining is about to take an enormous step into the future. The first successful test to extract minerals from the deep seafloor was recently conducted by Japan and in Papua New Guinea the logistics are nearly ready for the first major commercial project to start. However, some important doubts persist. Time will tell if extracting something from depths down to 5000 meters in the middle of an ocean is a profitable and sustainable activity with bearable impacts.

In international waters, deep sea mining is governed by the International Seabed Authority, which issues exploration and exploitation licenses. While environmental regulation is still in the making, already over a million km2 is licenced for exploration in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic. At the EU level, deep sea mining is a priority sector of the Blue Growth strategy, is also part of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials and matches the EU’s circular economy ambitions.

The potential impact of deep sea mining on the maritime economy, marine science and employment is considerable but with that also comes a series of issues:

  • How to ensure smart growth and an economy based on knowledge, research and innovation?
  • What is needed to put sustainable industries at the top of their competitive markets?
  • Are the foreseen policies aiming at inclusive growth in which job creation and poverty reduction are key goals?
  • How do the investments and risks associated to deep sea mining look in comparison with the development of green alternatives such as the reduction of consumption and recycling of materials?

While many countries around the world wait to see what the first deep sea mining explorations bring up, the time is to debate what should be done. What is at stake? What are the benefits, the challenges and the responsibilities of any country that wishes to start exploring what lies at the deep sea floor and below?

Environmentally, the potential impact on the sea floor natural dynamics is the main matter of concern. Simply put, no one really knows what the consequences of disturbing one of the most remote environments of the planet will be.

The majority of the known exploitable resources are located in association to the hydrothermal vents. There are serious concerns about our ability to safely extract resources from those unique and fragile formations without permanently affecting their functioning and associated wildlife.

Intrinsically linked to the exploitation of non-renewable resources, deep-sea mining also conflicts with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production.

Therefore, this is also the time to question if we really need to explore resources that are part of one of the most remote and unknown environments of the planet. Mankind has made many mistakes throughout history when exploring new wild territories. This is a unique opportunity to do things right!

The wide-ranging perspectives existing about deep sea mining will be the basis of the discussion at the EurOcean 2018 MARINA workshops. The events will take place as part of this H2020 funded project that is implementing Responsible Research and Innovation within the European marine sphere.

The first workshop will take place on 9 March 2018 in Ribeira Grande, São Miguel Island, Azores, will have a national scale and function as a World Café (in Portuguese). The second will take place on 7 May in Lisbon, will have an international scale and will run as a Structured Democratic Dialogue. Mandatory free registrations are open for the Azores event here. Concerning the Lisbon event, for now, please send an email to tiago.garcia@eurocean.org should you be interested to participate.

In the meantime we recommend you to read this comprehensive BBC article on deep sea mining.

Cover shot by SMD.