Deep sea mining: an undercover video, the French say “Non!” and an upcoming event you cannot miss

Quite a lot has been happening regarding the ongoing campaign against deep sea mining. Here goes…

First, a quick reminder of an exciting event at the University of the West Indies Mona campus (Undercroft) on Thursday, January 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It will include a Panel Discussion (starting at 12:00 noon), booth displays, and a virtual reality experience courtesy of students from the University of Technology. A dynamic group of young people have been working hard on the event, which will include an open mic if you would like to make a presentation, a poem perhaps (at 2:00 p.m.)? It will be informative, stimulating and fun. Brought to you by the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council, the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) Caribbean (who recently held an art exhibition on the topic in Trinidad), and the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, with support from Greenpeace.

According to Greenpeace USA, “undercover footage of the latest deep sea mining tests in the Pacific Ocean by Canadian miner The Metals Company (TMC) and its Swiss operating partner and shareholder AllSeas shows that wastewater sucked up from the seabed was dumped directly onto the sea’s surface. The wastewater contained rock debris, and sediment. TMC and Allseas have not publicly reported the incident. They were clearly in a great hurry to get started on testing the waters (so to speak). The deep sea mining tests were carried out between mid-September and mid-November 2022 in the Clarion Clipperton Zone between México and Hawaii.

Greenpeace noted: “Sediment plumes generated during the deep sea mining activity have the potential to smother and poison ocean life over a wide area both horizontally and vertically. Scientists who were monitoring the tests and have requested anonymity allege that flaws in the companies’ scientific program’s monitoring system, poor sampling practices and equipment failure make the data collected meaningless.”

Members of Greenpeace’s Stop Deep Sea Mining campaign commented on the video. Dr. Helen Rosenbaum observed that it “highlights TMC’s technical and scientific incompetence and that it cannot be trusted by investors, the general public, national governments or regulators.”

Scientists monitoring the tests and gathering scientific data say “inappropriate instrumentation was used to measure the sediment plumes generated by the deep sea mining operation and the test methodology was not informed by plume physics. In addition, scientists allege that attempts were made to influence the independence of sampling activities. For example, according to these reports, scientists have been asked to take plume samples in clear water outside the plume’s path. Furthermore, staff overseeing the monitoring reportedly had no prior experience in offshore measurements of this kind.” 

Dr. Rosenbaum continued: “The TMC and AllSeas deep sea mining operation in the Pacific provides a serious reality check for the liabilities that small island states, such as Nauru, Tonga or Kiribati may be left with. These countries have all entered into contracts with the very same company that has now been shown to pollute and not come clean about it. The Deep Sea Mining Campaign’s visual investigation Blue Peril predicts that over a 30 year license period TMC and Allseas would destroy an area of seabed hosting unique and diverse ecosystems equivalent to the land area of Hawaii. This was modeled in the same Nauru license area in which these companies have just tried to cover up pollution.” The campaign predicts it would take only three months for pollution created by TMC in its Tongan license area to reach the waters of Kiribati and Hawaii. Just three months!

NORI (a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMC in Nauru, tweeted:” The goal of any tech trial is to test your design in action and LEARN. The minor overspill of seawater from the cyclone was unexpected but is why we do pilots – it allowed us to flag & quickly correct the issue and take away lessons to inform our future commercial system design.” TMC called it a “minor event.”

Meanwhile, those in favour of going ahead with deep sea mining are determined to “get it done” (rather like UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s haste to “get Brexit done”). But – wait! Last week, the French Parliament voted in favour of a complete moratorium on deep sea mining. French President Emanuel Macron had made a hard-hitting statement on the issue at COP27. Let us hope there will be more to follow. Currently, things are delicately poised, with more countries wavering just a little.

We know there are alternatives, and many projects under way to obtain the same in-demand minerals without mining, from depleted lithium batteries. This is already happening in Costa Rica (a pioneer in eco-friendly solutions and a vocal member of the International Seabed Authority urging caution), thanks to a collaboration between the German Cooperation for Development GIZ and the Costa Rican company FORTECH CR. This is a pilot plan which seeks to establish a permanent lithium battery collection system. Moving towards a circular economy is the way to go.

Meanwhile, the wonders of the deep sea continue to enthral us. A scientist who studied bioluminescence (those amazing bright lights in the darkest depths) was the first to capture one of the most captivating and rare sights of the deep sea, a Giant Squid, on camera. She has written a book about her explorations.

A Japanese couple on a diving trip recently filmed a Giant Squid, and were quite overwhelmed.

And yet sadly, several species are already listed as in danger of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of the threat of deep sea mining, including some that live on the deep sea thermal vents – many of which fall into an area in the little-explored Indian Ocean that are within deep sea mining exploration leases. And more than half of our reef rays and sharks (especially rays) are threatened with extinction according to a new study. Life in the oceans has enough to contend with, without the ravages of mining.

Footnote: For those who love anything movies (and Jason Momoa – but who doesn’t love him?) the “Aquaman” star has produced and narrated a documentary, which will be premiered at the Sundance Film Festival shortly. I am sure it will make a great impact. You can see a short trailer here.

Come and learn, ask questions, and make your voices heard on Thursday at UWI. Spread the word!

Looking forward to seeing you there.

The Giant Squid seen recently off the coast of Japan. (AP/YouTube)

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