Scientists warn of deep-sea mining's destructive potential, want "new stewardship" of oceans

CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia

The deep-sea exploitation of oil and gas has been going on for a few decades now, and we've seen what can happen when things go wrong a few years ago in the Gulf of Mexico with the massive oil spill that took place after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig...

Deepwater Horizon explosionWikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Well, now thanks to advancements in robotics, deep-sea mining is rapidly approaching, especially for rare earth minerals that can be difficult to find in commercial quantities elsewhere (lanthanum is pictured above). This has the potential to do great damage to marine ecosystems if not done the right way (and probably not done at all in many sensitive locations). As we've seen with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, when something goes wrong deep underwater, it's very hard to fix things and minimize the damage. By some accounts, the ocean floor is already covered in trash, let's not add to the problem...

NASA ocean current visualization NASA/Public Domain

That's why a group of scientists have been trying to warn the public about the dangers of deep sea mining and calling for a "new stewardship" of our oceans.

"The deep ocean is a vast repository of resources, and looking over the long term - the next hundreds of years, say - we almost surely are going in there to mine," said Prof Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in San Diego, California.

"Even if some deposits are not currently economically viable, they probably will be in 50 years from now.

"What we're trying to say is that we need to do this in a responsible way, and if we are going to extract these resources, we need to do it with the least amount of harm to ecosystems, and now is the time to start thinking about how we do that," she told BBC News.

Indeed, thinking about a problem before we're faced with it would be the smart way to go about this, unlike what we've been doing with many other things like leaded gasoline or burning gigatons of fossil fuels...


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