The deep sea may be our planet’s last remaining frontier. More than 80% of the ocean has never been explored or seen by humans. Fewer than 20 people in the world have ever set foot on the deepest part of the ocean floor. Yet, the deep sea is under threat. Mining companies and governments are lining up to mine the bottom of our ocean, despite knowing so little about it. What is deep sea mining and how does it affect the environment?
Deep sea mining is the mining of minerals from the ocean floor.
Scientists estimate that there are many precious resources to be found at the bottom of the ocean, such as silver, copper, and cobalt. We use these minerals to build cars, computers, and buildings, even green technology like electric car batteries, solar panels and wind turbines.
In the past, deep sea mining was not possible. The extreme conditions at the bottom of the ocean make exploration very difficult. The human body simply cannot withstand the immense pressure at the depths of our ocean – it would crush our lungs! This pressure also makes it difficult for technology to operate. Technological advances, however, mean that this is no longer true.
The consequences of deep sea mining could be disastrous for our oceans and planet. As giant machines dig and dredge up the ocean floor, this sends up clouds of sediment that could smother marine life. These machines also generate noise pollution that spread through the ocean for hundreds of kilometres, disrupting life in the ocean. Many species that live in the deep sea are sensitive to sound as they use sound and vibrations to navigate.
Deep sea mining may also have important repercussions on the climate. Our oceans help the planet to buffer against global warming by taking in carbon from the atmosphere. A blanket of sediment in our oceans could affect its ability to act as a natural carbon sink, thus speeding up climate change.
In places like Japan and Papua New Guinea, some projects have already begun an early exploration of the seabed. Large-scale mining could also begin as early as this year. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has already given out permits to mine over 1 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.
The upcoming timeline of these projects mean that it is important to take action now. It can be as simple as finding out more about deep sea mining and educating our friends and family about the issue. Education is important in raising public awareness. We can also stand with companies that oppose deep sea mining, and push for governments to make laws that protect our oceans.
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