Deep sea mining  destroys Marine biodiversity

Marine species
Image NOAA (Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2019 ).

Oceans are experiencing rapid and dramatic changes as a result of human activity. Data indicate that during the last twenty to twenty-five years, concerns have been raised regarding uncontrolled collection and exploitation of genetic resources from the deep seabed. Today, many nations  across the world are in a race  to mine  the  deep sea bed for valuable minerals.


Deep sea mining involves removing mineral deposits and metals from the ocean’s seabed. There are three types of such mining: taking deposit-rich polymetallic nodules off the ocean floor, mining massive seafloor sulphide deposits and stripping cobalt crusts from rock.

These nodules, deposits and crusts contain materials, such as nickel, rare earths, cobalt and more, that are needed for batteries and other materials used in tapping renewable energy and also for everyday technology like cell phones and computers. Sediments  generated from extraction and  mining processes are a major concern. After extraction of valuable minerals, the  remaining slurry sediment plumes are often pumped back into the sea, which can harm filter-feeding species like corals and sponges. Deep-sea mining operations can also release harmful chemicals and heavy metals into the surrounding water, with long-lasting effects on marine life.

Apart from rare minerals, mining of  sea bed creatures such as  certain bactria, squibs and others became a valuable resource  for major pharmaceutical industry. Recently Scripps (March, 2020) announced a deep sea anti- cancer drug derived   from bacteria from deep sea bacteria is in final stages of clinical trials. It is learnt that  several new drugs  from deep sea are in   development  for   diabetes and obesity.

Scientists, environmental organisations and political decision-makers warn: deep-sea mining can destroy large parts of the seabed along with its inhabitants and in near future, affect the habitats of many marine creatures. Several organizations including  World Wide Fund for Nature, Oceancare, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC),  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)  are  highly critical of the damage to  under water sea ecosystem, loss of biodiversity apart from violation of several  intellectual property rights   of nations (treaty The Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992). However,  the  gained profits  from  sea bed resource mining  are hardly shared  with developing island nations) under whose  jurisdiction the marine territory falls.    More than 700 marine scientists, environmentalists and  policy makers  from  over 44 countries issued a statement  calling for  a pause in deep sea mining (

Deep  under the sea the conditions are harsh with the extreme pressure, cold and the prevailing darkness. Yet, life thrives and  till today nearly 2700 species have been discovered and many more to be identified. It is the largest biosphere on our planet and home for immeasurable number of species. And the diversity of species is enormous at a depth of 4,000 metres survive jellyfish, octopuses, worms, sponges, clams and  others. The giant squid, for example, can grow up to 13 metres long. But to escape  from getting crushed  due to prevailing  high pressure  these animals  have developed a gel like consistency with no bones, muscles and  internal cavities.   If we bring  these animals to surface  from water they simply melt or burst.

With privatization and  commodification of all resources of nature in today’s Neoliberal times, commercial activities targeting the biodiversity of seabed  have increased. Hence, it is highly  desirable  to  put an immediate halt to  deep sea mining and protect the marine  ecosystem from destruction.

Dr. Soma Marla,  Principal Scientist (retd), National Bureau of  Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi.

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