This session was hosted as part of the 2020 Virtual Ocean Dialogues by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Pacific Network on Globalisation.
The ocean is a constant for people of the Pacific, with cultures centred around long-held relationships that remain embedded in everyday life. Knowledge, guardianship and traditional resource management systems enable the bounty of a healthy ocean to perpetually sustain physical, economic and spiritual well-being.
The impending industry of deep seabed mining has focused its attention on the Pacific region both on the high seas through the International Seabed Authority and within national jurisdictions, where proposals to date have been shown to be at odds not only with cultural beliefs and practices of Pacific societies, but also with contemporary marine legislation, economic and cultural activities such as fisheries and tourism, and the commitments of all countries to reverse the decline in biodiversity. The outcomes and stories of civil society engagement with prolonged seabed mining licensing processes lay bare the question of appropriateness of the activity in the 21st century.
In this Virtual Ocean Dialogue session, stories from frontline indigenous leaders offered a Pacific people’s perspective on the “sustainable relationship” with the life-giving entity, Moana nui. Experts also explored the interconnectedness of deep-sea environments and the rights of both human societies and nature in the context of exploiting the global commons.
We are writing in response to your show on Sunday November 17 to register our serious disappointment and concern over the reporting bias and errors, and to correct some of the most egregious misconceptions purveyed. The production departed from the usual high standards of 60 Minutes, completely lacked balance, and could even be mistaken for a DeepGreen promotional piece.
There without doubt is a need for a more strategic global approach to mineral resource production, extraction, use and re-use. Minerals are key to addressing the climate crisis and human development priorities for the 21st century. But deep seabed mining is an irresponsible approach given current scientific knowledge, the importance of a healthy ocean, and the current state of the marine environment. Here we offer a synthesis of some of the most important points that we would have expected your program to pick up on.
1. Deep-sea mining is not ‘harvesting’ and miners are not ‘environmentalists’
In your segment, DeepGreen representative Gerrard Baron claims that DeepGreen’s operation is not mining, merely ‘harvesting’. This is a clear public relations ploy meant to mislead the public which went unchallenged. Firstly, mining is in no sense ‘harvesting’, a term which applies to a crop, as in farming. Manganese nodules are not renewable: they are minerals, occurring as the result of millions of years of accretion. Deep-sea mining is mineral extraction in every sense that comes with a plethora of harmful environmental impacts, whether or not there is drilling or digging involved.
Of course deep-sea mining differs from terrestrial mining, due to the great physical differences in the two types of environments. According to scientists, the mining of manganese nodules targeted by DeepGreen and other miners is likely to cause widespread destruction of marine life in and on the seabed. A single 30-year mining operation in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) would directly impact approximately 3,000-3,500 square miles (8,000-9,000 km2) of seabed, though estimates vary. Sediment plumes generated by the mining would likely impact deep-sea species and ecosystems well beyond the actual mining sites along the seafloor and in the water column, including through the emission of noise and light and the discharge of sediment, residual ore and wastewater from the mining ships at sea. Recent studies have concluded that the CCZ is an area of much higher biodiversity than previously thought and that the nodules themselves provide critical ‘substrate’ for many species, including important habitat forming species in the region.
An article published in Nature Geoscience in June 2017 and another in Frontiers in Marine Science in April 2018 argue that for these and other reasons biodiversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur and that most of this loss is likely to be permanent on human timescales given the very slow rates of recovery of deep-sea ecosystems. The deep ocean is already and increasingly facing multiple environmental stressors from pollutants, plastics, and climate change and related impacts such as acidification, warming, deoxygenation and reduced supply of nutrients from surface waters. We know very little about the deep sea, and new species are still being regularly discovered by deep-sea expeditions – species that could provide important ecosystem services that we do not yet understand, or even hold the key to medical or technological breakthroughs. Knowingly destroying an ecosystem we are only just beginning to understand cannot conceivably be called ‘environmentalism’, regardless of how it is spun.
Your segment mentions the Casper octopus. These animals lay their eggs on sponges which can only be found on the nodules targeted by companies like DeepGreen. They spend several years tending to these eggs, of which they lay very few, not even leaving to feed until the eggs successfully hatch, at which point the octopus dies, its mission completed. What will happen to the Casper octopus if deep-sea mining companies are permitted to destroy their nurseries?
2. The health of the deep-sea environment is critically important
The deep sea is not an ‘alien landscape’, as quoted by your narrator. Rather, it is the planet’s largest ecosystem, home to the greatest diversity of species and ecosystems on Earth, and essential to the proper functioning of our biosphere. Half of our planet’s oxygen is provided by the ocean.
Deep-sea processes are an important part of the ocean’s carbon storage system, and deep-sea sediments are significant carbon sinks. Many of these processes are still not fully understood, but disrupting them comes with considerable risk. Introducing a new extractive industry in the name of renewable energy could disrupt the ability of the deep sea to sequester and store carbon, or result in the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere as a side effect, further contributing to the climate crisis.
3. Metals found in the deep sea are not essential for a renewable energy future
DeepGreen claims that “the world has a problem” because “it’s getting harder to obtain the metals we need for our future – to build the electric cars, wind turbines, smartphones, supercomputers and other future technologies that will make us less reliant on fossil fuels” and that deep seabed mining is the answer to the supply problem. A 2016 report by the Institute for Sustainable Futures – ‘Renewable Energy and Deep-Sea Mining: Supply, Demand and Scenarios’ – refutes this claim. Having reviewed global supplies and projected demand for metals currently considered essential to renewable energy technology, the report concludes that even under the most ambitious scenario (a 100% renewable energy economy globally by 2050) it is not necessary to mine the deep sea.
It is simply not arguable that there are insufficient minerals on land to supply renewable energy. The proposition by DeepGreen is not that it is necessary, but rather preferable, to mine minerals from the deep sea. This argument is made in disregard of the long term environmental damage that will be caused to the ocean and sea floor, and in disregard of the scientific uncertainties due to lack of knowledge of the deep sea and enormous uncertainties around the technologies that will be used.
4. There is a growing call around the world for a moratorium on deep-sea mining
For all these reasons, many observers, from the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Ocean to the European Parliament and the Long Distance Fisheries Advisory Council to the European Union, are calling for a moratorium or pause on the rush to mine the deep seabed. Several point to the Decade for Ocean Science (2021-2030) as an opportunity to better understand what we stand to lose in the biodiversity and ecosystem function of the deep sea, before we destroy large areas of it for good.
Civil society is similarly active (despite being completely omitted from your feature). The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), founded in 2004, is a coalition of over 80 organizations worldwide working to protect deep-sea and open ocean ecosystems. Since 2014, we have worked extensively on the issue of deep-sea mining both at the ISA and multiple other forums beyond. In August 2019 the Coalition released an updated position statement calling for a moratorium unless and until a number of key conditions are met.
5. The US is not ‘being left out’
Your program’s central argument, that the US is being ‘left out’, ignores the fact that one of the largest defense contractors in the US has found a way around the US decision not to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. The largest private company that has a contract with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore for deep-sea minerals is US firm Lockheed Martin. Through its subsidiary, UK Seabed Resources which is sponsored by the United Kingdom, Lockheed has successfully obtained permits from the ISA to explore for nodules in the eastern Pacific Ocean, in an area totaling over 100,000 square miles of seabed (265,000 km²) – roughly the size of the state of Colorado. Five minutes of research on your part would have disclosed this fact.
Numerous bodies are calling for transformational change in our use of the Earth’s resources to reverse environmentally destructive and wasteful production and consumption patterns. Instead, deep-sea mining would open a whole new frontier of environmental degradation and potential extinctions across areas of the planet that are poorly studied and that have remained relatively untouched by direct human impact. Your researchers could and should have done far more to assess and present the entire story: a story that is replete in scientific literature, media commentary and social media, as a simple Google search for ‘deep sea mining and environment’ will show.
We invite 60 Minutes to contact us to arrange for a follow-up story. We will also put you in touch with other scientists, concerned governments, researchers and civil society organizations working on this issue.
Matthew Gianni Co-Founder, Political and Policy Advisor Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
Sian Owen Global Coordinator Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
Researchers have discovered high levels of biodiversity in deep-sea plains in the Eastern Pacific Ocean—an area that’s already been divvied up by mining companies for commercial exploration. The study, published today (October 17) in Current Biology, describes several new taxa of brittle stars, relatives of sea stars, and warns that industrial exploitation of the region could lead to serious declines in these and many other poorly documented species.
Wellington – 23 September 2019 — Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and Greenpeace are in the Court of Appeal in Wellington this week, defending last year’s High Court ruling that quashed Trans-Tasman Resources’ (TTR) consent to mine the South Taranaki Bight seabed.
TTR is appealing the 2018 High Court decision that removed its consent to mine a 66 square kilometre area of the Bight for ironsands, which would involve digging up 50 million tonnes of the seabed a year for 35 years.
In granting its original consent, the Environmental Protection Agency set out 109 conditions, some of which amounted to “adaptive management” which KASM, Greenpeace and other parties argued to the High Court was unlawful, and Justice Churchman agreed.
This week the Court will hear TTR argue for mining to go ahead, and cross-appeals from KASM and Greenpeace, with the other parties, on a number of other issues the High Court decision rejected (see below).
Cindy Baxter, Chairperson of KASM, says this case is of utmost importance for preventing future seabed mining in New Zealand.
“This is a precedent-setting case, and it’s important to get the law as strong as possible, in order to protect our oceans from damage by future seabed miners. We cannot stress the importance of this case enough, in terms of the impact this destructive, untested industry could have on our ocean environment,” she said.
Jessica Desmond, campaigner at Greenpeace says it’s unacceptable the unique biodiversity of this region should be put at further risk from seabed mining.
“The South Taranaki Bight is home to Aotearoa’s own population of blue whales, the critically endangered Māui dolphin, blue penguins and other ocean taonga. These species are already under a multitude of threats from destructive fishing techniques, pollution and climate change, and this case is critical in protecting their home from damage by seabed mining.”
The case will be heard over three days between 24-26 September, and the two environmental organisations will be working alongside a range of other groups, including local iwi Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui, the trustees of Te Kaahui Rauru, Forest & Bird, the Taranaki-Whanganui Conservation Board, Te Ohu Kai Moana and a number of other fisheries interests.
The issues the two groups are cross-appealing include:
the application of the precautionary principle and international law;
the conduct of the hearing itself – including how the chairman of the EPA committee used his casting vote since there were four members, two of whom voted against granting consent;
the failure of the EPA to take economic costs as well as benefits into account;
the way the EPA dealt with issues around the effects of seabed mining crossing the boundary into the coastal marine area (within 12 miles from land); and
the failure to differentiate between a bond and public liability insurance
Nov 2013: TTR applies to the EPA for a marine discharge consent for seabed mining Mar 2014: EPA receives record number of submissions against any application in its history Jun 2014: EPA refuses consent. ++++ Aug 2016: TTR re-applies for a marine discharge consent. Same area, same information. Feb 2017: EPA hearings begin. Again, record submissions , again(13,700 against). Aug 2017: EPA grants TTR consent Apr 2018: KASM, Greenpeace et al appeal heard in the High Court Aug 2018: High Court quashes TTR’s consent Sep 2019: TTR takes case to Court of Appeal, other parties cross-appeal
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 27th JULY, 2019
Kingston, Jamaica – 27th July 2019 – The International Seabed Authority (ISA) concluded its two week annual meeting yesterday following a round of speeches to mark the 25th Anniversary of the organization. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) called on the member countries of the ISA to shift priorities to properly protect the deep ocean, which makes up 90% of the marine environment.
The ISA has served a critical role since its inception, under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to ensure that unregulated mining in the international areas of world’s ocean does not occur. Currently only regulations that allow for exploration for minerals are in force.
During discussions over the past two weeks, ISA members continued debating draft mining regulations to enable commercial seabed mining to take place. Countries had previously set 2020 as the target for adopting the commercial regulations. However, many countries this week voiced concern over rushing the negotiations to meet that deadline. While the regulations may not be adopted next year, many countries expressed support for making the transition from ‘exploration’ to ‘exploitation’ of the deep sea within the next few years.
“We’re calling on States to reconsider whether they should permit deep seabed mining in the first place, given how little we know about deep-sea ecosystems, and whether it is even possible to mine the deep ocean and prevent the loss of species and biodiversity” said Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the DSCC.
States agreed to amend provisions to a key operational document adopted by the ISA this week. This could allow for the public release of contracts and the annual reports, which are currently kept confidential, on activities undertaken in the deep sea by the companies and countries that have exploration licenses with the ISA.
A proposal for highly restrictive guidelines for NGO attendance at meetings of the ISA was soundly rejected by member States, with many countries expressing concerns that reducing observer participation would discourage transparency and accountable decision-making. Nonetheless, the key advisory body of the ISA, the Legal and Technical Commission, continues
to meet behind closed doors in spite of a decision by member countries of the ISA two years ago that it should hold open meetings.
“This underlines the very difficult job of negotiating robust, transparent and effective regulations for the deep sea,” said Duncan Currie, an international lawyer who attended the annual meeting for the DSCC. “Many States appreciate the need for inclusive, transparent regulations that will ensure the effective protection of the marine environment.”
Calls for a moratorium on deep-seabed mining are gaining support. In May of this year, the Long Distance Advisory Council of the European Union, whose members include representatives of the EU’s high seas and distant water fishing fleets, trade unions and NGOs, called for a moratorium on ISA sponsored deep-seabed mining. This follows similar calls made by the European Parliament in 2018, the UN’s Special Envoy for the Oceans, Greenpeace, the Deep Sea Mining Campaign and others. The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee released a report in January of this year, concluding that “deep-sea mining would have catastrophic impacts on the seafloor site and its inhabitants,” and that “the case for deep-sea mining has not yet been made”.
Scientists continue to raise serious concerns over the potential impact of seabed mining on deep-sea species and ecosystems. In a letter this week to the ISA, scientists warned that deep seabed mining could cause irreversible and inevitable harm to marine life, including extinctions of species, and drive the climate crisis by disrupting ‘blue carbon’ stored in the seabed. The ISA now has an unprecedented opportunity to shift its current pro-mining agenda to become a champion for the research, understanding and protection of the deep-sea environment for the benefit of humankind.
— END —
Contacts: Matthew Gianni firstname.lastname@example.org +31-646 168 899