What we learned this week

Ocean farming is going to be a major growth industry of the 21st century, and it’s only a matter of time before ‘sea vegetables’ are available in the supermarket. Here’s one more step in that direction, a Faroese ocean farm that has just secured $1.5 million in investment, including $850,000 from WWF. (Insect farming is one to watch too, more on that next week)

Speaking of oceans, does anybody know anything about mining deep-sea polymetallic nodules? Deep Green suggest this is a very low impact way to source metals, and I’d be interested to know if that is true – and if it is true, can it can be done economically or at useful scale?

Nice interview with Katherine Trebeck in the Scottish newspaper The Herald: “The environmental crisis is a social justice issue and the two of those are bound up in how we design our economics. If we transform the economy towards a wellbeing economy, this will help us deliver on the social justice side of things and on the environment.”

I wrote about the unequal impact of heatwaves around the world this week. This interactive article from the New York Times is a visually impressive tour of the issue and well worth a look.

I’ve been troubled recently by how post-Brexit Britain has been dragged into America’s obsession with a new Cold War with China. As Michael McFaul explains in Foreign Policy, while there is plenty to object to in modern China, Xi Jinping is not Stalin and lazy historical comparisons will lead us to overlook the realities of China as it is.


  1. Perhaps the point about deep-sea mining is that there isn’t a large body of definitive knowledge yet. But from the articles below, and given how we know of the dynamics of other ‘big finance’ resource extraction operations, the prospects don’t seem very good unless really effective international regulation and oversight can be put in place. If only the USA would play along with that…

    Experience to date seems pretty worrying. In particular Friends of the Earth and http://www.deepseaminingoutofourdepth.org seem quite research-based rather than shoddily polemical, and they aren’t very happy.

    Some highlights include:
    Research shows that polymetallic nodule fields are hotspots of abundance and diversity for a highly vulnerable abyssal fauna.[13] Because deep sea mining is a relatively new field, the complete consequences of full-scale mining operations on this ecosystem are unknown. However, some researchers have said they believe that removal of parts of the sea floor will result in disturbances to the benthic layer, increased toxicity of the water column and sediment plumes from tailings.[2][13] Removing parts of the sea floor could disturb the habitat of benthic organisms, with unknown long-term effects.[1] Aside from the direct impact of mining the area, some researchers and environmental activists have raised concerns about leakage, spills and corrosion that could alter the mining area’s chemical makeup.

    Among the impacts of deep sea mining, sediment plumes could have the greatest impact. Plumes are caused when the tailings from mining (usually fine particles) are dumped back into the ocean, creating a cloud of particles floating in the water. Two types of plumes occur: near bottom plumes and surface plumes.[1] Near bottom plumes occur when the tailings are pumped back down to the mining site. The floating particles increase the turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water, clogging filter-feeding apparatuses used by benthic organisms.[14] Surface plumes cause a more serious problem. Depending on the size of the particles and water currents the plumes could spread over vast areas.[1][9] The plumes could impact zooplankton and light penetration, in turn affecting the food web of the area.

    A rare species called ‘Scaly-foot snail’, also known as sea pangolin, has become first species to be threatened because of deep sea mining.[1][9]

    Nodule mining could affect tens of thousands of square kilometers of these deep sea ecosystems. Nodule regrowth takes decades to millions of years and that would make such mining an unsustainable and nonrenewable practice. Any prediction about the effects of mining is extremely uncertain. Thus, nodule mining could cause habitat alteration, direct mortality of benthic creatures, or suspension of sediment, which can smother filter feeders.[24] Future environmental impact studies should address the impact on disruption and release of methane clathrate deposits in the deep oceans

    he exact nature of the ISA’s mission and authority has been questioned by opponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty who are generally skeptical of multilateral engagement by the United States.




    According to the GEOMAR centre for ocean research in Germany, the ecological impact of mining nodules would be totally unacceptable with current technology.
    The Deep Sea Mining Campaign (DSMC) is an association of NGOs and citizens from the Pacific Islands, Australia, Canada, and USA concerned about the likely impacts of DSM on marine and coastal ecosystems and communities.

    The DSM campaign is a Project of The Ocean Foundation, supported by Mining Watch Canada, a Partner of Mission Blue/Sylvia Earle Alliance and a Member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

    The DSM campaign has a consistent focus on this emerging and very real threat to the world’s oceans. Our unique approach combines grassroots community development with regional policy interventions, and human rights and science-based advocacy. We work closely with partners in Papua New Guinea including the Bismarck Ramu Group and the Alliance of Solwara Warriors, which is made up of over 20 communities in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas.

    The Deep Sea Mining campaign started in late 2011 in response to the frenzy of seabed exploration in the South Pacific. Approximately 1.5 million square kilometres of Pacific Ocean Floor is currently under exploration leasehold for deep seabed mining to private and national government companies within both territorial and international waters.

    The world’s first licence to operate a deep sea mine has been granted in Papua New Guinea to Canadian company Nautilus Inc, while the South Pacific Commission is driving the development of a regional regulatory framework to enable DSM. Meanwhile, US-based military contractor Lockheed Martin is negotiating licenses for the exploration of polymetallic manganese nodules with the Fiji administration. The company’s UK subsidiary UK Seabed Resources has its eyes on similar nodules in international waters spanning 58,000 km2 between Hawaii and Mexico. According to the GEOMAR centre for ocean research in Germany, the ecological impact of mining nodules would be totally unacceptable with current technology.

    How DSM occurs in the South Pacific will significantly influence how it is conducted in other parts of the world. The Indian Ocean, Red Sea and 58,000 km2 of international waters between Hawaii and Mexico are just a few of the other areas currently under exploration leasehold. New areas are being opened up to exploration almost monthly.

    All of this activity is occurring in the absence of regulatory regimes or conservation areas to protect the unique and little-known ecosystems of the deep sea. Furthermore, scientific research into impacts is extremely limited and provides no assurance that the health of coastal communities and the fisheries on which they depend can be guaranteed. Being a new form of mining there is a high level of uncertainty about the risks it poses to marine environments and communities. What is certain is that impacts will be associated with each step of the mining process. Neither Free Prior and Informed Consent from affected communities and the application of the Precautionary Principle has been adhered to in decision-making about DSM.
    The German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND-Friends of the Earth Germany), a member of Seas At Risk, has also joined the call for a ban on seabed mining together with several other German NGOs (PowerShift, Fair Oceans, Brot für die Welt, MISEREOR, Stiftung Asienhaus, Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung).

    Sorrry, that discussion ended up very long!

  2. Thanks for the links – I’m familiar with some of the concerns around sea mining generally. Sediment plumes seem particularly damaging, but Deep Green seem to suggest they can extract just the nodules without the sediment, which would be much more effective. I’ll have to look into it a bit more.

    1. I suspected you’d be very aware of all those concerns, and it’s good to highlight Deep Green since they do seem to be trying to do things more responsibly; hopefully they can be a shining beacon showing how it should be done, although I still have concerns: the nodules are clearly embedded in mud, and I can’t see how they can extract them without disturbing the mud? Is there a part that describes that? I haven’t found it yet..
      I guess you saw the editor’s note to this article?
      The company boasts of being “the world’s first zero tailings mining project.” While the claim is supported because no solid tails will be produced and stored at the mine, mining the seafloor is not without risks. The nuggets occur in mud, and the act of mining will undoubtedly create extensive turbidity of the seawater during mining. And there is considerable ecological opposition to disturbing the seafloor.

  3. Love the idea of growing seaweed.
    People fight aqua farming do to fish waste/pollution, sea lice etc. Not in my front yard!
    But growing plants will clean the water and remove nutrients that enhance algae blooms. Granted, this is a drop in the bucket, but at least we will be taking something out of the ocean.
    I believe the US is locked out of mining these nodules in the Pacific because we refused to join some international group or sign a treaty.

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