Deep-Sea Mining, Part 1: A Shining Example of Misguided Human Ingenuity

In our in-depth 4-part series, we explore the implications of deep-sea mining – where the drive to mine our ocean depths is coming from, what those effects are, what areas of the ocean are being explored, and where to go from here.

Here’s Part I.

(See list of all articles below.)

Metal-Minded Humans’ Drive for More

From the time of the Industrial Revolution until now, we’ve witnessed an alarming, increasing scale-up of mining and resource extractivism.

Extraction of metals and other materials from the Earth caters to ever-growing ‘consumer needs’ including cars, computers, electronic devices: phones; household and industrial appliances; machinery; medical equipment, and more. A never-ending list of consumables.

While emerging, converging technologies continue to roll out at an accelerated rate (i.e., already out of date 10 minutes ago), we as a global gaggle of device-hungry ‘consumer’ beasts continue to:

·  Upgrade

·  Outdate

·  Renew

·  Replace

·  Get the latest

·  Buy the best

·  And basically, outdo the Joneses in any way we can

Add to the mix the sales-positive, factory-inbuilt practice of planned obsolescence. Just as the latest model is released, we’re enticed (and often forced) to buy in, since:

a) our ‘old’ model, purchased 2 years ago, doesn’t work (the latest software updates are incompatible and renders the phone ‘outdated’);

b) the battery simply doesn’t hold a charge, so functionality is grossly affected;

c) it costs more to fix the problem than it does to get the latest version of the device; and

d) there are features on the new model that are highly desirable which work poorly on the old model (phone cameras come to mind).

The seemingly good news is that some future-projecting organisations and corporations are increasingly investigating other (apparently) eco-friendly alternatives. So how can we vote with our green-value-driven dollars instead?

Here’s the catch.

Clean green energy tech, including wind turbines, solar panels, and electric storage batteries are often heavily metal-intensive. So in the drive to do good, find cleaner options, and ultimately take more responsibility for the Earth, we can unwittingly end up pillaging it more than ever.

“As the environment and climate crises intensify, the much-needed transition to a carbon-neutral economy has focused mostly on technology and innovation fixes such as the large-scale deployment of renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles and digitalisation, all of which are metal-intensive. However, relying only on the ‘green economy’ transition without moving away from overconsumption and the paradigm of infinite economic growth requires vast amounts of metals and minerals for batteries, electronic devices or energy infrastructure.” 

Rampant consumerism, favoured profit-first business models, and metal-heavy green technology, taken together, lead to plans to mine—that is, destroy and desecrate—ecosystems like the deep sea.

While academic bodies consider, weigh, and contemplate the ecological effects of this kind of destruction, most of us (even without a degree in oceanography) can see it’s a sure lose-lose for ocean life forms, and therefore the planet and humanity.

Deep-sea mining is seabed mining at depths lower than 200 metres to extract rare metals and minerals such as copper, nickel, aluminium, manganese, zinc, lithium, cobalt, gold, and silver.

For nearly half a century, industry has been looking to extract rare ores found close to hydrothermal vents in the depths of our oceans. Recent interest has been stimulated by rising metal prices, technological advances in deep-sea mining equipment (including driverless vehicles operated remotely and flexible risers – the pipes that carry mined materials to the surface for processing), and the drive for more metals.

Hydrothermal vent on ocean floor
Hydrothermal Vent. Photo credit:

We know that our oceans are essential for life on Earth. They provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, supply water, host the greatest biodiversity on Earth, affect climate and weather patterns, and are a source of food, medicine, and employment.

Even without the effects of deep-sea mining, our oceans are being polluted by toxic chemicals and heavy metals including dyes, oils, mercury, lead, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, oil spills, nuclear testing wastes, and effluent from industry, landfills, construction sites, and sewerage systems – all of which contaminate our water, affecting both marine and human life. Coupled with overfishing, melting of the polar ice caps, plastic islands afloat, bycatching and more, the scraping and gouging of the seafloor by mining machinery spells total destruction of deep marine habitats (about which we still know very little), which form the very lifeblood of our planet.

Toxic plastic waste floating underwater in the ocean, water pollution and environmental damage.

In the next part of our series, Deep Sea Mining, Part 2: The Next Frontier, or the Ultimate Suicide Mission?, we explore the direct effects of deep-sea mining on ecosystems and the Earth.

*  *  *

The Miner Network is Changing the Face of Mining

With the clear intention to improve existing land mining practices – via regenerative processes, chemical-free processing, and fair labour contracts and working conditions, Miner is changing the face of mining.

Learn about The Miner Pledge here.

We invite leaders across the global mining industry to join us in proactively taking mature steps towards planet preservation.

Collaborate with us to begin a mining narrative that transcends the exploitative thinking that brought us to this teetering precipice. Let’s find our way together to a new (and ancient) paradigm—what author and activist John Perkins calls “moving away from a Death Economy to a Life Economy.” It can be done.

JOIN The Miner Network mailing list and stay informed of the upcoming launch of MINER token.

~Abheeti Kathryn Pass


Here are the other installments in the series:

Deep Sea Mining, Part 2: The Next Frontier, or the Ultimate Suicide Mission?

Mining Effects on Ecosystems and the Earth


Deep Sea Mining, Part 3: Awash in Sustainability-Speak 

The Where, The Who, The Why


Deep Sea Mining, Part 4: The Eco-centric Response

Where To From Here? (to be published next week)