Photo: Kevin Griffin/Alamy
Deep-sea mining could cause irreversible damage to blue whales and other rare marine life, scientists warn.
A peer-reviewed paper published by the University of Exeter and Greenpeace Research Laboratories focuses on the overlap between cetaceans (such as whales, dolphins and porpoises) and deep-sea mining target sites, particularly in the Pacific. The authors warn that research is urgently needed to assess the threats to these mammals.
The research, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, notes that noise pollution in particular can harm sensitive, intelligent animals.
Scientists said the disturbance would be constant for the marine mammals, similar to noisy construction work in a human neighborhood where it was impossible to escape.
“Imagine your neighborhood suddenly being disrupted by construction work going on 24/7, your life would change dramatically. Your mental health would be compromised, you might change your behavior to escape it. It’s no different for whales or dolphins,” says Dr Kirsten Thompson from the University of Exeter. The research concludes that the continued disturbance can cause ill health.
Related: Leaked video footage of ocean pollution sheds light on deep-sea mining
Until now, assessments of the impacts of mining have focused on seafloor species, as this is the immediate area where mines are extracted. However, scientists say the impact on cetaceans and other large animals that could be harmed by noise pollution urgently needs to be assessed before permitting commercial mining.
Dolphins and sperm whales are among 25 cetacean species found in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) between Mexico and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, the paper said. However, mining companies are interested in extracting metals and minerals from the seabed in this area, which is believed to be rich in valuable materials. To date, 17 exploratory deep sea mining contracts have been awarded in this part of the Pacific.
Although deep-sea mining companies have not yet received permission to start mining commercially, they are asking governments for the green light for the first time in July. Campaigners and scientists warn that if allowed, machines could operate 24 hours a day, producing sounds at varying depths that could overlap with the frequencies cetaceans use to communicate.
Metals for industry, including copper, cobalt, nickel, and manganese, reside in the seabed, and rare earths such as yttrium are also thought to exist, as well as significant veins of gold, silver, and platinum.
Louisa Casson, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: “Deep-sea mining companies are determined to start plundering the oceans, despite little research on the impact this industry would have on whales, dolphins and other species.
“Deep-sea mining can damage the oceans in ways we don’t fully understand — and at the expense of species like the blue whale, which have been a focus of conservation efforts for many years. Governments cannot fulfill their commitments to protect the oceans if they allow deep-sea mining.”