WWF report: deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster

Posted on February, 10 2021

New research outlines likely impacts of deep seabed mining on ecosystems and biodiversity, and risks of allowing industry to proceed.
Too many unknowns and gaps in ocean science, policy and industry innovation remain for any deep seabed mining activities to be allowed to take place, an investigation released today by WWF argues. 

The destructive impacts of mining the deep seabed for metals and minerals such as cobalt, lithium and nickel on deep-sea ecosystems and biodiversity could have knock-on effects on fisheries, livelihoods and food security, and compromise ocean carbon and nutrient cycles, the report warns. Given the slow pace of deep-sea processes, destroyed habitats are unlikely to recover within human timescales. 

WWF, as well as many other organisations, political leaders and scientists, is calling for a global moratorium on deep seabed mining unless and until the environmental, social and economic risks are comprehensively understood; all alternatives to adding more minerals into the resource economy are exhausted; and it is clearly demonstrated that deep seabed mining can be managed in a way that ensures the effective protection of the marine environment and prevents loss of biodiversity.

“Industry wants us to think mining the deep sea is necessary to meet demand for minerals that go into electric vehicle batteries and the electronic gadgets in our pockets. But it’s not so,” says Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “We don’t have to trash the ocean to decarbonise. Instead, we should be directing our focus toward innovation and the search for less resource-intensive products and processes. We call on investors to look for innovative solutions and create a true circular economy that reduces the need to extract finite resources from the Earth.”

In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on deep seabed mining that calls for an end both to subsidies for prospecting minerals on the international seabed and to permits for deep sea mining in areas within national jurisdiction. This Friday, 12 of February, the EU Working Party on the Law of the Sea (EU-COMAR) will discuss the latest proposal from the European Commission suggesting to find a joint EU Member State position on deep sea mining issues at the International Seabed Authority. WWF calls for this position to include a moratorium on all deep seabed mining activities until the risks are understood and all alternatives to deep sea minerals have been explored.

Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at the WWF European Policy Office said, “If the EU is serious about achieving the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, it must commit to no deep seabed mining before we know and understand all the risks and impacts. As a first step, at Member State level, national plans for sustainable use of marine resources, due by 31 March, must be sure to cover all maritime sectors and activities, as well as area-based conservation-management measures.”

The report further highlights that marine ecosystems are connected, and many species are migratory. Therefore, deep seabed mining cannot occur in isolation, and disturbances can easily cross jurisdictional boundaries. Negative effects on global fisheries would threaten the main protein source of around 1 billion people and the livelihoods of around 200 million people, many in poor coastal communities.

The potential value of deep seabed mining has been estimated at US$2-20 billion -- a fraction of the much more valuable sustainable ocean economy, which annually generates a conservatively estimated US$1.5-2.4 trillion, benefiting many States and coastal communities. 

Catarina Grilo, Conservation and Policy Director at ANP|WWF in Portugal reinforced that “before mining and wrecking our seabed, which will degrade ocean health by affecting species, disturbing important areas for biodiversity and disrupting ecosystem functioning, we need to consider recycling existing materials, and being smarter about our production and consumption. Supporting deep sea mining as an industry would go against the goal of transitioning to a circular economy and against the United Nations Agenda 2030 goals.”

WWF promotes a transformational change to a Sustainable Blue Economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations; restores, protects and maintains the diversity, productivity and resilience of marine ecosystems; and is based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows. 

WWF is an independent conservation organization with over 30 million followers and a global network active in nearly 100 countries. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit panda.org/news for the latest news and media resources. 

ANP is a Portuguese NGO that works in Portugal in association with WWF, with a view to conserving biological and resource diversity nationals, looking for a planet where people can live in harmony with nature. Follow our work at www.natureza-portugal.org.

Rita Rodrigues - ANP|WWF 
+351 962911072 

Gretchen Lyons - WWF International Oceans Practice

Larissa Milo-Dale  - WWF European Policy Office
+32 0483 26 20 86
Close-up illustration of a machine mining a deep seabed