Thousands of new creatures discovered in deep-sea mining area

by The Insights

CLIMATE WIRE | A vast region of the mineral-rich Pacific Ocean known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone is attracting major international interest because of its potential for deep-sea mining, including for minerals essential for renewable energy technology . But scientists warn the risks to biodiversity could be higher than previously thought.

New research reveals that the area is home to thousands of different marine species – and the majority of them are new to science. Additionally, the area has been relatively understudied so far, which means there are likely many more species left to discover.

The new article, published Thursday in the journal Current biology, provides the first comprehensive “checklist” of species known to exist in the CCZ. The document synthesizes over 100,000 documents from previous research expeditions to the region over the years. It focuses specifically on benthic metazoans – multicellular animals living on the ocean floor.

The study reveals that a total of 5,580 species have been observed in the area. Of these, 5,142 are new species that have not yet been officially named and described. Scientists know they exist, but they don’t know much about them.

Of the species known to scientists, the study reveals that only six have been observed in other regions of the ocean.

And scientists are likely to continue to discover new species as they study the region. There is still a lot of sampling to be done in the CCZ, the researchers noted in the study. And “species accumulate rapidly with increasing samples,” they added.

The study raises new concerns about the potential consequences of deep sea mining in the CCZ.

“We are on the eve of the potential approval of some of the largest deep-sea mining operations,” study co-author Adrian Glover, a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said in a statement. “It is imperative that we work with companies seeking to exploit these resources to ensure that any such activity is conducted in a way that limits its impact on the natural world.”

The CCZ spans approximately 2 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico. It has attracted international attention due to its high volume of mineral deposits. The seabed is filled with small rock-like “nodules” about the size of a potato, rich in minerals such as cobalt, manganese, nickel, copper and zinc.

An intergovernmental body known as the International Seabed Authority is responsible for designating mining rules and approving contracts in the CCZ. So far, the ISA has awarded 31 exploration contracts to countries and companies allowing them to assess potential mining opportunities in the region.

Currently, no deep sea mining takes place in the CCZ. The ISA will begin accepting mining applications in July, although it has yet to agree industry rules for mining in the region. But it’s still unclear exactly when mining will be able to begin in the area or if any rules will be in place before that happens.

Proponents of deep-sea mining say it is a critical way to secure the minerals needed for electric vehicle batteries and renewable energy technologies. Currently, these minerals come mainly from land sites around the world, where they are often linked to human rights abuses.

But the prospect of expanding deep-sea mining has raised alarm among activists and some of the ISA member countries, who worry about potential damage to marine biodiversity and ecosystems.

The mineral-rich nodules in the CCZ sit on the seabed, making them relatively easy to recover. But critics argue that using underwater vehicles to collect the nodules can still crush or disturb marine animals on the ocean floor and kick up plumes of sediment, potentially filled with toxic heavy metals, which can then spread. in water.

In 2021, hundreds of marine scientists and policy experts signed an open letter calling for a pause in deep-sea mining. In the same year, member states belonging to the International Union for Conservation of Nature , along with environmentalists and other activists, voted in favor of a moratorium on deep-sea mining.

Many scientists, activists and countries have urged caution until researchers better understand the implications for biodiversity in the high seas, where marine ecosystems are often still poorly understood.

The new CCZ species checklist provides a “starting point” for these kinds of future studies, the researchers said in the study.

“Solid data and understanding are essential to shed light on this unique region and ensure its future protection from human impacts,” they said.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

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