Seabed Mining: Need to protect the environment


Source: Cook Islands News

Alison Swaddling, an Environment Advisor with Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) Project, made a presentation on environmental considerations at this week’s workshop being held at the Rarotongan Beach Resort and Spa. 14051321

Attendees at this week’s deep sea minerals workshop heard about the environmental issues of mining on the seabed floor.

A presentation on the topic was made by Alison Swaddling, an Environment Advisor with the Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) Project - a regional training programme jointly devised and implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the European Union.

During her presentation, Swaddling said there are a series of environmental management considerations that need to be looked at, including understanding the effects on marine ecosystems, and understanding, managing, and monitoring the potential impacts of any mining activity.

According to DSM Project literature, the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone contains roughly 7.5 million metric tonnes of manganese nodules, which are located at a depth between 3000 and 5000 metres below sea level.

It is believed that 32 million metric tonnes of cobalt is located on the nation’s seabed floor – 520 years worth of supply based on current global demand.

Swaddling said a variety of animals such as worms, sponges, molluscs (snails) live in the surrounding environment or on the nodules themselves – which, on average, fit in the palm of a hand.

Potential impacts to marine life would result from a number of mining activities, from the removal of the target material from the sea floor to the disposal of waste material (tailings) and transport of product to markets.

Additionally, light and noise from mining could have the potential to either attract or repel marine life.

As an example of the seabed floor’s unique and delicate ecosystem, Swaddling showed a 1978 image where nodules were previously recovered.

Photographed again some 26 years later, the same area showed the original disturbances on the floor – where it is said a bottom current of less than 5 cm per second exists.

Environmental objectives should involve maintaining overall biodiversity and ecosystem health and functions, and if mining sites will be permanently altered, Swaddling said a network of marine reserves should be established to achieve environmental objectives.

Additionally, she said mining companies contracted to source the nodules will need to monitor sites, while government officials should have a necessary monitoring regime in place to keep tabs on the contractors themselves.