Nosie pollution from deep sea-mining could stretch millions of kilometers

Nosie pollution from just one deep-sea mine could stretch approximately 500 kilometers in gentle weather conditions, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

These results could influence decisions on whether the seventeen contractors who are proposing mining projects in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) will be allowed to go ahead.

Just one mine within the 4.5 million square kilometers area between Hawaii and Mexico could create elevated noise levels for an area larger than the European Union – an estimated 5.5 million square kilometers.

Mining activity could have serious impacts on the behaviours of deep sea creatures, which use sound to navigate, find food, mate, communicate and detect predators, and pose a threat to attempts to preserve areas from mining for scientific comparisons.

blue jelly fishes

‘What surprised me most was how easy it would be for noise from just one or two mines to impact nearby areas that have been set aside as experimental controls,’ said Rob Williams, co-founder of Oceans Initiative who worked on the study. ‘With so many unknowns, we need a careful comparison of these preservation reference areas to sites where mining is taking place in order to understand mining’s impacts. But noise will cross the boundaries between preservation zones and mining sites.’

This could undermine efforts to draft mining regulations, the researchers said, and a rethinking of environmental regulations to limit the number of mining operations within the CCZ could be required.

Data from smaller-scale deep-sea mining prototypes has not been released yet, meaning the research had to rely on better-studied industrial activities, such as oil and gas ships and coastal dredges.

True noise levels from deep-sea mining could be even higher, as seabed mining equipment is much larger and more powerful.

Island nation Nauru invoked a United Nations ‘two-year’ rule last June, forcing the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to finalise regulations on seabed activities within two years.

This could force the intergovernmental organisation to enable large-scale mining by July 2023 or consider mining proposals without internationally agreed regulations in place.

The study joins growing research showing there is not enough data to fully assess the ecological risks of mining in time for the 2023 deadline.

A growing number of countries, experts, corporations and environmental organisations are calling for a halt to seabed mining until science and management can ensure no harm to marine life.

‘The deep sea houses potentially millions of species that have yet to be identified, and processes there allow life on Earth to exist,’ said Travis Washburn, a deep-sea ecologist at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), who worked on the research. ‘While much work is still needed to determine the extent and magnitude of environmental impacts from deep-sea mining, with careful study and management we have a unique opportunity to understand and mitigate human impacts to the environment before they occur.’

Scientists from Oceans Initiative, AIST, Curtin University in Australia, and the University of Hawaii collaborated on the research.

Photo by Mikita Amialkovič


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