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Biodiversity loss from deep-sea mining

Authors:
  • Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK
NATURE GEOSCIENCE | ADVANCE ONLINE PUBLICATION | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience 1
correspondence
To the Editor — e emerging deep-sea
mining industry is seen by some to be
an engine for economic development in
the maritime sector1. e International
Seabed Authority — the body that
regulates mining activities on the seabed
beyond national jurisdiction — must also
protect the marine environment from
harmful eects that arise from mining2.
e International Seabed Authority is
currently draing a regulatory framework
for deep-sea mining that includes
measures for environmental protection.
Responsible mining increasingly strives
to work with no net loss of biodiversity3.
Financial and regulatory frameworks
commonly require extractive industries
to use a four-tier mitigation hierarchy
to prevent biodiversity loss: in order of
priority, biodiversity loss is to be avoided,
minimized, remediated and — as a last
resort — oset4,5. We argue here that
mining with no net loss of biodiversity
using this mitigation hierarchy in the deep
sea is an unattainable goal.
e rst tier of the mitigation hierarchy
is avoidance. Potentially useful mitigation
strategies in the deep sea include patchwork
extraction, whereby some minerals with
associated fauna are le undisturbed, or
other means to limit the direct mining
footprint. Even so, loss of biodiversity will
be unavoidable because mining directly
destroys habitat and indirectly degrades
large volumes of the water column and
areas of the seabed due to the generation
of sediment plumes that are enriched in
bioavailable metals.
Although biodiversity loss within
mines is inevitable, innovative engineering
design could reduce or minimize some
risks to near- and far-eld biodiversity.
For example, shrouds tted to cutting
equipment might reduce the dispersion
of sediment plumes and the footprint
of plume impacts such as the burial of
organisms. Similarly, vehicle design might
limit compaction of seabed sediments.
Of course, the ecacy of such eorts in
mitigating biodiversity loss would need to
be tested.
Remediation addresses the residual
loss of biodiversity at and around a mine
site aer avoidance and minimization
interventions. In the deep sea, native
species are oen slow to recruit and
recolonize disturbed habitats. Slow
recovery on the scale of decades to
centuries, enormous spatial scales of mines
for certain mineral resources (a single
30-year operation license to mine metal-
rich nodules will involve an area about
the size of Austria6) and the high cost of
working in the deep sea may mean that
remediation is unrealistic7. Further, the
science of deep-sea benthic remediation is
a nascent eld8. It is far from established
that remediation of industrial mine sites
in the deep sea is feasible for any mineral
resource, and we know of no remediation
actions that can be applied to the
water column.
e last resort in the mitigation
hierarchy is in-kind or like-for-like
osets within a biogeographical region.
When osets cannot be located where the
aected biodiversity is found, and where
the aected biodiversity is important for
geographically restricted functions such
as connectivity (as is the case for the deep
sea), in-kind osets are not an appropriate
mitigation strategy9. Out-of-kind osets10,
such as restoring coral reefs in exchange
for loss of deep-sea biodiversity, have been
proposed, but this practice assumes that
loss of largely unknown deep-sea species
and ecosystems is acceptable. We question
this assumption on scientic grounds. e
relationship between any gain in biological
diversity in an out-of-kind setting and
loss of biological diversity in the deep
sea is so ambiguous as to be scientically
meaningless. Further, compensating
biodiversity loss in international waters
with biodiversity gains in national waters
could constitute a transfer of wealth that
runs counter to the Law of the Sea, where
benets from deep seabed mining must
accrue to the international community at
large, as part of the common heritage of
humankind. Given the paucity of other
industrial activities in the deep sea (except
perhaps sheries), it is dicult to imagine
a scenario where averted risk osets10 could
apply; that is, where a mining operation
could avert biodiversity losses from
other activities.
e four-tier mitigation hierarchy used
so oen to minimize biodiversity loss in
terrestrial mining and oshore oil and
gas operations thus fails when applied
to the deep ocean. Residual biodiversity
loss cannot be mitigated through
remediation or osets and the goal of no
net loss of biodiversity is not achievable for
deep-seabed mining. Focus therefore must
be on avoiding and minimizing harm. Most
mining-induced loss of biodiversity in the
deep sea is likely to last forever on human
timescales, given the very slow natural
rates of recovery in aected ecosystems. It
is incumbent on the International Seabed
Authority to communicate to the public the
potentially serious implications of this loss
of biodiversity and ask for a response.
References
1. Blue Growth: Opportunities for Marine and Maritime
Sustainable Growth (European Comission, 2012);
http://dx.doi.org/10.2771/43949
2. Levin, L.A. etal. Mar. Poli cy 74, 245–259 (2016).
3. Rainey, H.J. etal. Oryx 49, 232–238 (2015).
4. Ekstrom, J., Bennun, L. & Mitchell, R. A Cross-sector Guide for
Implementing the Mitigation Hierarchy (Cross Sector Biodiversity
Initiative, 2015).
5. Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and
Sustainable Management of Living Natural Res ources
(International Finance Corporation, 2012).
6. Smith, C.R., Levin, L.A., Koslow, A., Tyler, P.A. &
Glover, A.G. in Aquatic Ecosystems: Trends and Global Prospects
(ed. Polunin, N.) 334–349 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008).
7. Van Dover, C.L. etal. Mar. P olic y 44, 98–106 (2014).
8. Strömberg, S.M., Lundälv, T. & Goreau, T.J. J.Exp. Mar. Bio. Ecol.
395, 153–161 (2010).
9. Pilgrim, J.D. etal. Conserv. Lett. 6, 376–384 (2013).
10. Guidance Notes to the Standard on Biodiversity Osets (Business
and Biodiversity Osets Program, 2012).
Biodiversity loss from deep-sea mining
The Tu’i Malila vent field in the Lau Basin,
southwest Pacific. Lau Basin foundation species
(Alviniconcha spp. snails, Ifremeria nautilei snails,
and Bathymodiolus septemdierum mussels) live
in diuse flow on the surfaces of metal-rich
sulfide deposits.
KAREN JACOBSEN, IN SITU SCIENCE ILLUSTRATION
2 NATURE GEOSCIENCE | ADVANCE ONLINE PUBLICATION | www.nature.com/naturegeoscience
correspondence
C. L. Van Dover1*, J. A. Ardron2, E. Escobar3,
M. Gianni4, K. M. Gjerde5, A. Jaeckel6,
D. O. B. Jones2, L. A. Levin7, H. J. Niner8,
L. Pendleton1,9, C. R. Smith10, T. Thiele11,
P. J. Turner1, L. Watling12 and P. P. E. Weaver13
1Division of Marine Science and Conservation,
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke
University, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA.
2National Oceanography Centre, University of
Southampton, Waterfront Campus, European
Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK. 3UNAM
ICML-CU, Biodiversidad y Macroecologia, 04510
Mexico City, Mexico. 4Deep-Sea Conservation
Coalition, Postbus 59681, 1040 LD Amsterdam,
Netherlands. 5IUCN Marine and Polar Programme,
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.
6Macquarie Law School and Macquarie Marine
Research Centre, Macquarie University, New
South Wales 2109, Australia. 7Center for Marine
Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution
of Oceanography, UC San Diego, La Jolla,
California 92093-0218 USA. 8University College
London, Torrens Building, 220 Victoria Square,
Adelaide 5000, Australia. 9Université de Bretagne
Occidentale, UMR6308 AMURE, IUEM, 29280
Plouzané, France. 10Department of Oceanography,
1000 Pope Road, University of Hawaii at Mānoa,
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822 USA. 11Institute of
Global Aairs, London School of Economics,
London WC2A 2AZ, UK. 12Department of Biology,
Edmondson Hall, University of Hawaii at Mānoa,
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA. 13Seascape
Consultants, Romsey SO51 0QA, UK.
*e-mail: clv3@duke.edu
Acknowledgements
Research leading to these ndings was supported by the
National Science Foundation (C.L.V.D.), Pew Charitable
Trusts (C.L.V.D.), International Climate Initiative (GOBI;
C.L.V.D.), Université Occidental de Bretagne and Institut
Universitaire Européen de la Mer (C.L.V.D., L.P.), 7th
EU Framework (MIDAS #603418; J.A.A., D.O.B.J., M.G.,
K.M.G., P.P.E.W.), EU Horizon 2020 (MERCES #689518,
D.O.B.J.) and the J.M. Kaplan Fund (L.A.L.).
Competing interests
C.L.V.D. and L.A.L. received research support from
Nautilus Minerals; C.R.S. received research support from
UK Seabed Resources DevelopmentLimited.
Published online: 26 June 2017
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An era of expanding deep-ocean industrialization is before us, with policy makers establishing governance frameworks for sustainable management of deep-sea resources while scientists learn more about the ecological structure and functioning of the largest biome on the planet. Missing from discussion of the stewardship of the deep ocean is ecological restoration. If existing activities in the deep sea continue or are expanded and new deep-ocean industries are developed, there is need to consider what is required to minimize or repair resulting damages to the deep-sea environment. In addition, thought should be given as to how any past damage can be rectified. This paper develops the discourse on deep-sea restoration and offers guidance on planning and implementing ecological restoration projects for deep-sea ecosystems that are already, or are at threat of becoming, degraded, damaged or destroyed. Two deep-sea restoration case studies or scenarios are described (deep-sea stony corals on the Darwin Mounds off the west coast of Scotland, deep-sea hydrothermal vents in Manus Basin, Papua New Guinea) and are contrasted with on-going saltmarsh restoration in San Francisco Bay. For these case studies, a set of socio-economic, ecological, and technological decision parameters that might favor (or not) their restoration are examined. Costs for hypothetical restoration scenarios in the deep sea are estimated and first indications suggest they may be two to three orders of magnitude greater per hectare than costs for restoration efforts in shallow-water marine systems.
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Extensive areas of the cold-water scleractinian Lophelia pertusa have been damaged due to the impact of bottom-trawling and natural recovery is slow or absent. Here we evaluate a method for coral reef rehabilitation intended to enhance coral transplant survival and growth, i.e. mineral accretion by electrolysis in seawater. Electrolysis in seawater produces a semi-natural substrate in the form of aragonite (CaCO3). The method has been used in coral reef rehabilitation programmes in tropical coral habitats but has so far not been tested in temperate deep-water habitats. A controlled laboratory experiment was performed to test the effect of the substrate per se and different levels of applied current densities (0.00–2.19 A m−2), including galvanic elements (Fe|Zn), on coral fragments attached to the cathodes. The studied responses were; growth rate, budding frequency, mortality, and general health status (degree of polyp activity). We found that the budding frequency differed significantly between treatments, with higher frequencies in low current density treatments. Significant differences were also found in the frequency distribution of calices displaying a growth of ≥ 2 mm yr−1, with higher frequencies in the lowest applied current density (LI), controls, and galvanic elements. Growth rates were slightly higher in LI, although non-significant. Zero mortality was observed in the control group as well as in LI. The degree of polyp activity was not affected by the treatments. These results are in part congruent with earlier studies and the method is found suitable for L. pertusa. The positive effects were mainly restricted to the lowest applied current density treatment (0.06 A m−2). The optimal current density level is hereby found to be considerably lower than levels used in previous studies and provide new guidelines for what levels to use in rehabilitation programmes with this method.
A Cross-sector Guide for Implementing the Mitigation Hierarchy
  • J Ekstrom
  • L Bennun
  • R Mitchell
Ekstrom, J., Bennun, L. & Mitchell, R. A Cross-sector Guide for Implementing the Mitigation Hierarchy (Cross Sector Biodiversity Initiative, 2015).
Blue Growth: Opportunities for Marine and Maritime Sustainable Growth
  • L A Levin
Levin, L. A. et al. Mar. Policy 74, 245-259 (2016).
  • H J Rainey
Rainey, H. J. et al. Oryx 49, 232-238 (2015).
Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources (International Finance Corporation
Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources (International Finance Corporation, 2012).
  • C L Van Dover
Van Dover, C. L. et al. Mar. Policy 44, 98-106 (2014).