Mining metal and minerals in ‘ecosystems we hardly understand’ poses grave threat to marine life, warn environmentalists. Suzanne Goldenberg reports
This is the last frontier: the ocean floor, 4,000 metres beneath the waters of the central Pacific, where mining companies are now exploring for the rich deposits of ores needed to keep industry humming and smartphones switched on.
The prospect of a race to the bottom of the ocean – a 21st-century high seas version of the Klondike gold rush – has alarmed scientists. The oceans, which make up 45% of the world’s surface, are already degraded by overfishing, industrial waste, plastic debris and climate change, which is altering their chemistry. Now comes a new extractive industry – and scientists say governments are not prepared.
"Do we know enough about the seabed to go ahead and mine it?" said Figueres. "Do we understand enough about the interconnection between the seabed, the column of water, the 50% of the oxygen that the ocean produces for the world, the 25% of the carbon that it fixes in order to go in and disrupt the seabed in way that we would if we went in and started mining? I don’t think so, not until we have scientific backing to determine whether this is something good or bad for the planet."