The ISA must protect ocean ecosystems, not exploit them

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The ISA (International Seabed Authority) must protect ocean ecosystems, not exploit them

By Payal Sampat


Giant tube worms, anemones and mussels in the deep sea, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador:. by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Galapagos Rift Expedition 2011

Deep-sea mining sounds like a science fiction novel. And what the mining companies hope to get from the deep sea (metals from cobalt crusts, manganese nodules and hydrothermal vents) also seems like fiction. Deep-sea mining has not started yet. But many companies and governments hope this will change.

Deep-sea mining is a high-risk, experimental industrial activity. They want to do it in one of the most sensitive areas of the planet that people have not explored yet. We don’t know enough about the effects that deep-sea mining could have on our oceans, marine life and fisheries. There are many marine organisms we need to discover and study. Scientists in Germany found recently that the very first life form lived in the deep sea.

In July, the ISA (International Seabed Authority) met in Kingston, Jamaica. They should protect the oceans and sea life. But they have already given out 26 licenses to explore 1.5 million square kilometers of the bed of the Pacific Ocean, and many areas of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and the Red Sea. There is more exploration every month. But they are not working to understand how this industrial activity could destroy marine life and ecosystems and communities that live on the coasts.

The ISA must decide to control what happens and protect ocean life. It cannot allow companies and governments to experiment with and make money from the oceans, which should be for all of us. It must organize more research and protection of our deep ocean environments.

And international authorities and governments must come together to create deep-sea Marine Protected Areas. New Zealand did this in 2015 - they created the 620,000 km2 Kermadec ocean sanctuary.

The ISA must be an organization that protects oceans, not tells companies how to use and destroy them.

Payal Sampat is Mining Program Director at Earthworks.

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