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Conservation International Calls for a Minimum Ten-Year Moratorium on Deep-Sea Mining

January 20, 2020

Prohibition Until 2030 Would Allow for Needed Research and Crucial Policies to Be Put Into Effect to Safeguard the Environment

Governments, International Authorities, & Private Sector Called to Action

Arlington, Va. (January 20, 2020) – Today, Conservation International issued a position statement calling for a minimum ten-year moratorium on deep-sea mining exploitation. Time is needed, the organization says, to allow for scientific understanding of the risks associated with this type of mining.

The deep sea, or depths of the ocean below 200 meters (656 feet), covers the biggest portion of the world and up to 10 million species. Species at these depths are particularly vulnerable to any disturbance due to their slow growth rates, late maturity, sensitivity and long lifespans.

“Deep-sea mining is not necessary to meet global demands now, or in the future,” said Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International. “Our focus should not be on taking more from our oceans, but instead reducing our need for minerals through investments in new technologies and in a circular economy that reuses - rather than discards - the metals and minerals already in circulation.”   

“Our global oceans are already facing a myriad of destructive threats, the news of which is hard to escape on a daily basis. Instead of adding to these impacts, let’s learn from the past and conduct the science that’s needed to be able to responsibly determine whether deep-sea mining can be done in a way that doesn’t put our oceans and the services they provide to people further at risk,” added ‘Aulani Wilhelm, senior vice president at Conservation International’s Center for Oceans.

Current scientific understanding points towards adverse and long-lasting impacts of deep-sea mining on the species, habitats, and environmental quality of the oceans. Terrestrial and marine development projects often use a mitigation hierarchy to try to avoid, mitigate, restore and offset ecological impacts in order to achieve no net loss of biodiversity. However, these options will not exist for deep-sea mining, where biodiversity loss is inevitable, mitigation techniques are untested and opportunities to restore or offset impacts are nonexistent.

Conservation International also calls on governments and the International Seabed Authority to implement transparent, accountable and effective decision making and regulatory structures for deep-sea ecosystems. Additionally, the organization says that this time period should be also used to intensify metal recycling, which is currently very low, as well as to develop alternative technologies that reduce the need to mine both on land and in the sea.

“Currently, we cannot predict what the impacts of mining will be on the vast and diverse ecosystems of the deep sea and other parts of the oceans,” said Dr. Emily Pidgeon, Conservation International’s vice president for ocean science. “We are only just beginning to understand the potential risks to the biodiversity of the oceans. Before any mining can begin, science must first clarify if and how deep-sea mining might be possible without endangering ecosystems that are still largely unknown.”

In the position statement, Conservation International also recognizes that there are already ongoing deep-sea exploration and prospecting activities at numerous sites globally, and that despite the need for further research, some international authorities, governments and private sector entities may nevertheless proceed with exploitation of deep-sea minerals. In these instances, the organization calls on governments, international authorities, and the private sector to adopt the following three guidelines: 

  • Apply the precautionary principle to deep-sea mineral exploration and prospecting activities.
  • Conduct comprehensive planning prior to any deep-sea mining activities to ensure conservation of ecologically and culturally sensitive areas, as well as prevent conflict with other ocean users.
  • Apply the polluter pays principle to ensure seabed mining developers and operators compensate for impacts, including potential unanticipated accidents.

“Let’s utilize the United Nation’s proclamation of 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as an unprecedented opportunity to invest in science to inform development that is truly sustainable,” said Wilhelm. “We are in a unique position to be proactive with deep-sea mining and ensure we avoid impacts we cannot reverse at costs neither people nor the planet can absorb.” 

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature that people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about Conservation International, the groundbreaking  "Nature Is Speaking" campaign and its series of virtual reality projects: “Drop in the Ocean”"My Africa,"  “Under the Canopy" and "Valen's Reef." Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation News, our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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