Today marks a turning point for the deep ocean – home to some of the least explored, vulnerable habitats on earth – as the UK Government adds its voice to twenty-four other countries calling for a moratorium (a precautionary pause) on one of humanity’s most destructive marine activities, deep sea mining.
For a long time the deep sea was considered as a vast, empty, lifeless, muddy desert – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a rich mosaic of extraordinary habitats and ecosystems populated by unique animals. From deep sea hydrothermal vents, where life may well have begun, coated in tube worms living in eighty degree water bubbling out of the earth’s crust, to millennia-old deep sea corals that survive entirely independently of the sun’s energy, the deep sea is full of life.
It’s home to many of the world’s strangest and most extraordinary creatures which are, despite their remoteness, incredibly vulnerable to human activity. Life in the deep sea is slow and old. Animals take a long time to mature, epitomised by the Greenland Shark, the longest living vertebrate, which can live for as much as five hundred years and swims glacially slowly.
Deep sea mining poses an existential threat to marine life in the deep sea. It is difficult to fully grasp the damage it would do or the scale of the proposed mining industry – each new mine would occupy, on average, eight thousand square kilometres – compared to the largest terrestrial mine on the planet which is less than ten square kilometres. The idea that this activity, without any sort of realistic mitigation of the impacts, would brazenly ignore the precautionary approach – an approach that countries round the world are ostensibly signed up to.
There is widespread public and political opposition to deep sea mining, including from former conservative ministers and leaders. Thirty-five thousand people in the UK signed a petition calling for a moratorium – every one of whom should feel proud today. With Labour having also announced it will support a moratorium on the development of this new, destructive industry, it seems that the UK can, today, hold its head high on protecting the marine environment.
Clare Brook, CEO of Blue Marine, said: “We are delighted to see the UK supporting a moratorium on deep-sea mining. It is vital that we exercise the precautionary principle and find ways of producing minerals necessary for the transition to net zero that so not cause catastrophic and permanent destruction of fragile ocean biodiversity.”