Strip-mining the Ocean Floor: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – by Miyoko Sakashita (Huffington Post – May 14, 2015)

Miyoko Sakashita is the Oceans Director, Center for Biological Diversity.

Have you heard about the disastrous gold rush brewing in our oceans? Not content with getting minerals from dry land, companies are now aiming to strip mine our ocean floors in search of nickel, copper, cobalt, gold and other valuable metals and minerals. Many of them would end up in our electronics.

But there’s a heavy price to be paid: Like mountain-top removal mining, deep-sea mining involves massive cutting machines that will leave behind barren, underwater landscapes — some of the richest and most pristine ecosystems left on the planet.

This week, the Center for Biological Diversity (where I work) took the first steps in slowing down this deep sea gold rush by filing a lawsuit challenging the permits that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary to mine the mineral-rich Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Mexico.

While there’s much that we still don’t understand about life on the deep sea floor, we do know that the Clarion-Clipperton Zone is teeming with wildlife, including sperm whales, spinner dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, great hammerhead sharks and a vast array of fish, corals, snails and sponges.

These ecosystems — many of which are so remote and deep that they remain largely a mystery to science — would suffer irreparable harm when the miners move in.

And yet, Lockheed Martin and other powerful corporations are quickly moving to strip-mine precious metals from the deep sea floor, with the cooperation of cash-strapped governments around the world, and regulators who barely know what environmental controls to suggest at this point.

It’s a bit like the California Gold Rush that began in 1849, which forever altered land forms and river flows and left a toxic legacy still being felt today, such as with the American River fish that are too contaminated with the 49ers’ mercury to eat. A better comparison may be mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia that has displaced communities of humans and wildlife in favor of toxic moonscapes denuded of life.

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