Digging up the ocean floor for metals could prove disastrous


Relevance: Marine life will be endangered if seafloor mining got commercialised.


The seafloor contains potato-sized rocks that contain many metals needed to make electric-car batteries. Many perceive that seabed mining as a green alternative to land-based mineral extraction—and potentially a hugely lucrative business. But it is not completely true.


A startup, The Metals Co, holds prospecting rights over 90,000 square miles of seabed and plans to indulge in seabed mining.

Since June, 530 marine science and policy experts from 44 countries have signed a statement warning that seabed mining would result in environmental damages “irreversible on multi-generational timescales.

That should alarm not just investors, but policymakers charged with protecting the oceans.

About Polymetallic nodules:
  • These are rocks that are rich in cobalt, copper, manganese, nickel, rare-earth elements and titanium.
  • The Pacific basin is thought to contain more than 30 billion tonnes of polymetallic nodules
  • Scientists and entrepreneurs have been researching methods of extracting them since the 1960s.
  • In 1994, the International Seabed Authority was established to regulate mining efforts and protect the seabed environment.

Challenges in seafloor mining
  • The seafloor is arguably the least resilient ecosystem on the planet.
  • In 2017, a report commissioned by the UK government warned that seabed mining could lead to the “extinction of unique species which form the first rung of the food chain.”
  • The damage wouldn’t be confined to the ocean floor. Plumes of sediment will have a dire effects on sea life accustomed to clear water.
    • Further, the plumes might also include toxins that can pass on to Fishes.
    • The plumes might also reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon—or even release stored carbon into the atmosphere—thereby worsening climate change.

The UN should call for a moratorium on seafloor mining. Further, countries should consider challenging any permits at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and other legal forums.

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