A group of scientists is asking international authorities to temporarily halt the approval of new underwater mining contracts until further environmental controls are put in place.
In a paper published Friday in Science, the experts ask the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is the arm of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that governs mining in international waters, to first come up with environmental regulations on the emerging industry.
Miners have been eyeing vast copper, gold and rare earths deposits on the seafloor. But, until now, only Canadian Nautilus Minerals (TSX:NUS) has made enough progress as to forecast it may start digging up copper and precious metals from its Solwara 1 project around Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea, by 2017.
Environmentalists have attacked this and other projects. They argue that mining should be prohibited globally, but in specific areas of the ocean floor, as the activity could upset parts of the world that are essential to the absorption of carbon dioxide, causing long-term damages to the environment.
“These ecosystems do not recover — they just don’t,” Jack Kittinger, one of the paper’s authors and director of Virginia-based Conservation International told The Washington Post. “We’re talking geologic time here because it’s so deep and so cold.”
While the exact effects of long-term or extensive mining on the ocean floor remain unclear, a group of European scientists is already researching the topic, and the results of their studies may be coming soon.