Posted Jul 7, 2022 6:36 am
Lithium for batteries or strontium for electric motors, these metal resources, which are increasingly valued by industrialists, could soon be extracted from the depths of the oceans. Between 400 meters and 6 kilometers under the water surface, these metals can be found alongside yeti crabs, colorful anemones or tube worms… A very rich biodiversity that many NGOs believe would be endangered if the seabed were depleted.
A moratorium was launched by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), which brings together 90 international organizations. “We are asking for a pause, time for science to better understand these ecosystems and for institutions to organize on this issue,” argues Sian Owen, director of the DSCC. “It’s also about making sure that humanity in general, who has inherited these riches, consents to their exploitation. We are currently observing the opposite. The more people hear about it, the more they oppose it. »
France, on the other hand, abstained from voting at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the moratorium on opening up the deep sea to mining. Greenpeace has also launched a petition asking the head of state to support the motion. Almost 73,000 signatures have already been collected.
“The exploitation of these resources with the dredging would cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystems,” fears François Chartier, head of the ocean and oil campaign at Greenpeace France. Three types of resources could be exploited by industrialists: polymetallic nodules, small stones resting on the sand, hydrothermal vents, underwater hot vents, and crusts. Whether by picking up nodules with a shovel that would stir up sediment hundreds of meters around, or by leveling chimneys and crusts, the destruction would be almost permanent: “At this depth, the fauna needs reefs to cling to . The very rich biomass would suffer as a result, and that over many years, because according to the first analyses, the nodules grow by 1 mm per million years,” warns François Chartier.
NGOs are also concerned about noise and visual pollution of ecosystems and the risk of disrupting the chemical balance of the seabed through the chemical dispersion of materials and the release of carbon stored in the sediments. The question of the sorting of metals and the release of scrap, some of which would likely occur at the surface, also raises questions about the dispersal of the environments.
Exploration in troubled waters
These numerous and widespread damages would be all the more worrying because it is currently difficult to understand their consequences: “Today we do not know these ecosystems well, we cannot understand the effects of the exploitation of the seabed,” explains Greenpeace ocean and oil activist. According to Greenpeace, this ignorance of the seabed undermines the possibility of rational management of the resources. “In view of the planned technologies and the limited knowledge of the environment, sustainable use is not foreseeable. We don’t know how the seabed will react,” emphasizes François Chartier.
The NGOs are also followed by some large companies such as Google, Volvo or Samsung, which have already committed not to use these minerals, at least to give science time to understand these environments. According to Greenpeace, the seabed would not be profitable anyway. “The metal concentrations are extremely low: we are talking about ten grams per tonne of sediment. »
However, some see the exploitation of the seabed as good news: the abandonment of landmines and their disastrous ecological and social consequences. An argument swept aside by the director of the DSCC: “There is no evidence that the landmines would close. Opening up the seabed would rather lead to a drop in prices and thus even more pressure on the farms,” explains Sian Owen.
For the time being, only exploration is permitted on the high seas, not exploitation. However, some brave young companies have already taken the plunge to learn more about the potential of the seabed and have invested millions of euros in cutting-edge technologies. Greenpeace regrets the use of the term exploration to refer to ongoing feasibility studies. “We are already talking about mining activities. Scientists are no longer being sent, but excavators,” notes François Chartier.