Flourishing Oceans09 May 2023

Why Deep-Sea Mining is Not the Solution for Critical Metals in the Green Economy

The world is racing towards a “green economy”. An economy powered by renewable energy technologies such as electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels to reverse the effects of climate change and preserve this beautiful earth we call home

Gyrinomimis swimming in the deep ocean. Image provided by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Gyrinomimis swimming in the deep ocean. Photo Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

The transition to a low-carbon economy has led to a surge in demand for critical metals like cobalt, nickel, and copper, currently used in products such as batteries, wind turbines and solar panels to generate renewable energy.

Until now, the metals to power our transition to a green economy have been sourced from land, but some would have us now believe that we also need to exploit the pristine wilderness of the deep sea.

Supporters of deep-sea mining argue that extracting these metals from ancient geological features on the ocean floor could provide a new source of raw materials for the green economy.

Emerging research argues however, that deep-sea mining is unnecessary and potentially harmful to our environment and that there are alternative ways to meet the demand for critical metals.

Environmental impacts

It is essential to acknowledge that the full environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are unknown. The ocean floor is a complex and fragile ecosystem that hosts many species, many of which are undiscovered.

Deep-sea mining involves disturbing the seafloor and releasing sediment into the water, which could harm or destroy habitats and lead to the extinction of species.

The long-term effects of deep-sea mining are still poorly understood, and the damage caused could be irreversible.

A circular economy

There is growing recognition that recycling and circular economy approaches could help to reduce the demand for new sources of critical metals.

Recycling reduces the need for mining, reduces waste, and conserves resources. The recycling rates for many critical metals are currently low, and there is significant potential for improvement with more research and investment.

Land-based mining

Many countries have significant reserves of critical metals on land and the potential for further discovery and development. In addition, land-based mining has a growing focus on responsible mining practices, prioritising environmental protection, social responsibility, and transparency.

By improving land-based mining operations, we can minimise the environmental impacts of resource extraction on land and remove the need to start mining in the deep sea.

Alternative technology

We must rely on more than current technology for the long term. As part of switching to a green economy, there needs to be a heavy focus on research and development toward alternative technologies that are more sustainable and do not rely on these critical metals.

The demand for critical metals is increasing as the world transitions towards a low-carbon economy; however, deep-sea mining is not the solution for critical metals. The potential environmental risks and uncertainties associated with deep-sea mining make it an unacceptable option.

We must focus on improving recycling rates, developing circular economy approaches, promoting responsible and efficient land-based mining practices, and exploring new and emerging technologies that reduce the demand for critical metals. By doing so, we can ensure that we meet the needs of the future in a way that is sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

2 minute read
Share this article
Other Stories