“I think that most manufacturing and mining should be under the purview of state authorities.”
Rand Paul, Politician
Ocean Mining: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Ocean mining (also often referred to as deep-sea mining) can be defined as a retrieval process for minerals that are located on the ocean floor. Large machines are used to dig large wholes into the ocean floor and to mine for precious metals and minerals.
These resources are in turn used in a variety of industrial processes and also for the production of many devices of our daily life, including components in our computers, smartphones and TVs.
However, although it can provide us with precious metals, ocean mining can also lead to significant environmental pollution.
In this article, the causes, effects and solutions regarding ocean mining are examined in detail.
Causes for Ocean Mining
- Scarcity of resources from conventional mining
- Population growth
- Increase in consumption
- Excessive waste production
- Advancements in technology
- Lax regulations regarding deep-sea mining
- Political interests
- Social irresponsibility
Scarcity of resources from conventional mining
Most of our natural resources our industries use for the production of goods are fossil resources and will be depleted sooner or later. In fact, some precious materials are becoming quite scarce and conventional mining will be not sufficient to meet the demand for those resources in the near future.
Therefore, industries are searching for a good alternative to conventional mining. One of them could be ocean mining. In our ocean, there are plenty of precious resources that could be recovered.
Even if deep-sea mining is often quite costly since big machines have to be operated on the ground of the ocean, many companies think it will still be worth it to do so due to the scarcity of resources from conventional mining activities which may lead to a significant increase in world market prices for scarce metals and therefore to an increased profit for companies who specialized in ocean mining.
Our world population is growing, and so does the demand for natural resources. The more people that live on our planet, the more material things have to be produced to meet the demand of our global population.
Moreover, also the consumption pattern changed over the past decades. Since the industrial revolution period, consumption levels skyrocketed due to quite low unit prices of goods due to mass production. However, this development also implies a significant increase in the demand for natural resources.
In order to meet this demand, governments and companies search for alternatives to conventional mining. Ocean mining seems to be one of the favored alternatives when it comes to ensuring the future demand for precious minerals.
Increase in consumption
The average global wealth level increases at a steady rate. This development sounds quite positive at first glance. However, this increase in wealth levels also implies the excessive consumption of material goods. This in turn implies the excessive use of natural resources, which may become depleted in the near future.
Therefore, in order to meet the excessive demand for material goods, companies have to watch out for alternative ways to extract natural resources. Thus, an increase in consumption levels may also indirectly contribute to an increase in ocean mining activities.
Excessive waste production
Not only the increased consumption levels itself, but also our behavior regarding the use of material things is a vast environmental problem. In our nowadays society, people often replace material belongings at a quite fast pace.
Even if many things are still working, people often dispose their old electronics into the garbage since they want to have the newest version, even if it is only slightly better.
This leads to an excessive amount of unnecessary waste, which in turn contributes to the depletion of natural resources and to alternative recovery methods like deep sea mining in order to meet the demand for material goods.
Advancements in technology
In the past decades, our technology advanced at an enormous speed. Although technological development is important, it also has some serious downsides. We transit more and more to a technology-driven world, which implies the use of large amounts of metals for electronics.
However, in order to be able to meet the demand for those resources, our conventional mining methods may no longer be sufficient. Therefore, alternative resource recovery methods like ocean mining have to be used to be able to meet the demand for metals and rare earths.
Lax regulations regarding deep sea mining
Compared to conventional mining activities, deep sea mining is regulated in a rather lax manner in many regions around the globe.
While land mining is subject to property rights and strict legal regulations, ocean mining may be less regulated in the sense that some parts of our ocean do not actually belong to a certain country at all and can be rather regarded as community property.
Making things even worse, the control mechanisms regarding ocean mining are usually quite low, which makes it attractive for some countries to engage in ocean mining activities, even if it would be against international laws.
Mining activities are also often subject to political interests. Since our natural resources, especially precious metals and rare earths, are urgently needed for industrial processes and technological development, there is a big political interest to ensure the supply of these goods.
The country which controls the supply of those resources will also have great power in the future. Thus, politicians are often quite eager to engage in ocean mining to ensure their countries’ power and wealth.
There is often a conflict of interest between a country’s interest and the social responsibility for our planet as a whole. For instance, a single country often strives to ensure its power by mining for resources.
However, if every country is doing so, chances are that this leads to excessive mining from a global social perspective since no one will take the negative externalities on a global scale into account.
Thus, if having power over resources means having political power in general, ocean mining will be executed in an excessive manner compared to the socially optimal level.
Greed is a quite big problem in our nowadays society. This is not only true at an individual level, but also on a global scale.
Too many people and also politicians are driven by excessive levels of ego, which in turn leads to unhealthy and irresponsible political decisions in the long run.
This is also true when it comes to the regulation or rather to the lack of regulation of deep-sea mining and the related adverse environmental consequences.
Effects of Deep Sea Mining
- Destruction of natural habitats
- Endangerment or extinction of species
- Fragmentation of ecosystem structure
- Disruption of marine life
- Disruption of the food chain
- Destruction of an environment we only slightly understand
- Decrease in visibility
- Noise pollution
- Light pollution
- Water pollution
- Global warming
Destruction of natural habitats
As we have seen, ocean mining can be caused for a variety of reasons. However, it can also be quite harmful to our environment. Ocean mining can lead to the destruction of natural habitats for a variety of animals and plants.
Since for ocean mining, large machines have to be used, the soil at the bottom of the ocean will be harmed in the affected regions.
While some fishes have to relocate to other habitats, a variety of plants which will not be able to do so will die off due to those underwater mining activities.
Endangerment or extinction of species
Many aquatic species may also become endangered or even extinct due to deep sea mining. This is especially true for water organisms which only occur in one specific area of our planet.
If these areas are used for ocean mining, chances are that this species will become extinct in the near future since animals and plants are usually quite sensitive to changes in their natural living conditions and may not be able to adapt to the new circumstances in a proper manner.
Fragmentation of ecosystem structure
Also, the ecosystem as a whole will likely be harmed by deep sea mining activities. Ecosystems are sensitive constructs where each species is dependent on many other species.
If one species will become extinct due to ocean mining, others may also greatly suffer since they may lose an important food source.
This circle of endangerment and extinction may continue up to a point where the ecosystem structure becomes quite fragmented and fragile.
Disruption of marine life
Since marine life, especially deep below the surface, it not used to human interventions at all, significant interventions like ocean mining may lead to the disruption of aquatic life.
For instance, this could mean that ocean mining may negatively impact the reproduction behavior of sea animals and plants since these organisms may feel stressed due to the human infiltration of their natural habitats.
Disruption of the food chain
The marine food chain may also be disrupted by human interventions like ocean mining. If some species decrease in population, other species are likely to follow.
In the end, this could lead to a point where even our food supply from fishes and other seafood will become quite limited.
Thus, although deep sea mining seems not to be a big issue in the short run for humanity, it can have severe direct effects in the long run.
Destruction of an environment we only slightly understand
Especially areas of our oceans that are deep below the surface are not yet explored to a major extent.
If we destroy these areas due to activities like ocean mining, we could destroy a variety of animals, plants and other organisms before humanity would actually be able to explore and understand those organisms.
This is not only quite sad, it may also prevent humanity to progress in all fields of development, including medical and technological progress.
Decrease in visibility
Since large amounts of sediments are whirled up during ocean mining, the visibility in the nearby ocean areas will be greatly reduced.
This may be a problem for a variety of animals which may lose their ability to navigate around.
Moreover, some animals may also have difficulties getting enough food since they may no longer be able to detect their prey due to insufficient visibility.
Since large machines are used for ocean mining, these machines also often make quite loud noises. In turn, this may disturb the natural living conditions of a variety of animals and plants, which are simply not used to those noise levels at all.
In turn, many fishes and other aquatic animals may leave the affected areas, which may lead to distortions of the local ecosystem in the long run.
Deep sea mining not only implies loud noises, but also significant light pollution. In order to be able to navigate in those deep-sea areas, machines have to use strong lights in order to make proper navigation possible.
However, marine life is not used to these artificial light sources at all and no one will be able to assess the consequences that are implied by this disturbance appropriately since humanity does not have any proper research data on this topic yet.
Ocean mining also implies a certain degree of water pollution. Machines that are used for deep-sea mining sometimes leak, which implies the contamination of water with oil and other harmful substances. Those substances can in turn hurt a variety of sea animals and plants.
Since nothing is perfect, also in the process of ocean mining, accidents will happen sooner or later. This could mean that machines will stop working. If those machines are not recovered by companies due to excessive costs, they may pollute the ocean in the long run.
Ocean mining may also indirectly contribute to global warming. Sediments often store large amounts of carbon. If these sediments are processed through deep-sea mining practices, chances are that large amounts of carbon dioxide will be released into the ocean, which may end up in our atmosphere in the long run and will finally contribute to global warming.
Solutions for Ocean Mining
- International cooperation
- Global regulatory framework
- Reduction in population growth
- Change in our value systems
- Adjustment of consumption behavior
- Reduction in waste
- Reuse and recycle
- Repair your stuff
- Raise awareness on this topic
- Research and education
In order to reduce the adverse effects of ocean mining for our environment, countries all over the world have to work together to prevent excessive deep-sea mining. This should also involve that representatives from companies interested in ocean mining join discussions with politicians in order to find suitable solutions.
However, it should not mean that lobbying leads to excessive permits for ocean mining. It should rather serve as a discussion to understand the needs of industries and to find solutions to make ocean mining as eco-friendly as possible.
Global regulatory framework
Since the regulations regarding ocean mining are often quite soft, countries all over the world should introduce a global legal framework regarding ocean mining.
This should include limited deep sea mining quotes so that only a small fraction of the ocean ground can be used for mining while there are still enough areas that stay untouched and protected from human intervention.
Moreover, companies engaging in ocean mining should be subject to strict international objective supervision in order to protect our fragile ocean environment from excessive destruction and pollution.
Reduction in population growth
Since population growth is an important cause for many environmental problems, including ocean mining, we should consider taking measures to decrease the growth rate of our global population.
This could mean introducing a one-child policy as previously seen in China. It could also mean to raise education levels, since low levels of education and the number of children of a family are strongly positively correlated.
By taking measures to reduce or at least to keep the number of people on our planet at a constant level, our environmental problems could be reduced significantly.
Change in our value systems
In order to confine deep sea mining and the related adverse environmental effects, we also have to change our attitude towards life and our value system. In most countries, we still get the picture that success is related to the material wealth a person is able to build.
However, this attitude leads to a variety of problems for our planet, since it implies the excessive consumption of resources and pollution.
Thus, we have to change the mind of people to a state where a sustainable environmental behavior is valued more than material wealth if we truly want to save our planet from destruction.
Adjustment of consumption behavior
Every one of us should adjust and reduce his or her consumption levels. Our current consumption behavior implies the excessive extraction of natural resources which may become depleted in the near future.
In order to avoid alternative methods of resource extraction like ocean mining, we have to reduce our material consumption to a sustainable level.
Reduction in waste
We should also try to reduce our waste production in order to save natural resources and to avoid ocean mining activities. This could mean that we avoid buying excessively packaged items in our stores and rather buy groceries from organic food stores.
Moreover, it could also mean to grow our own vegetables and fruits on our balcony or our garden to further reduce waste from packaging or wrapping.
Reuse and recycle
It is also necessary that we reuse our material stuff. Instead of disposing old but still working things, offer them to your family members or friends. If no one wants to use your old belongings, at least make sure that you separate your waste properly in order to make it available for recycling.
Repair your stuff
Due to high average wealth levels, especially in the Western world, people usually do not repair things but rather dispose broken items into the garbage and buy new versions.
However, this leads to unnecessary waste which may lead to excessive pollution, resource depletion and also to the necessity for ocean mining. Many items are quite easy to repair.
Thus, the next time something is broke, try to repair it instead of disposing it into the trash. You will be surprised how much money and waste you can save by repairing things!
Raise awareness on this topic
It is also crucial that we raise awareness on the topic of ocean mining. Many people are still not aware of how their material products are manufactured.
The majority of the population actually does not even no that deep-sea mining is actually used to extract resources.
Thus, it is crucial to highlight to people how important it is to adjust our consumption behavior in order to reduce the need for resource extraction and ocean mining.
Only if people get aware of this issue, they can change their consumption behavior in an eco-friendlier manner.
Research and education
It is also crucial that we invest enough financial resources into research and education regarding the topic of resource extraction and ocean mining. By doing so, we may be able to optimize mining practices in an eco-friendly manner so that we can reduce the adverse effects related to ocean mining to a minimum.
Deep sea mining is a practice that got quite popular over the past decades since it may be a suitable complement to conventional mining activities.
However, it also implies several environmental problems. In order to protect our environment, there should be strict global regulations for companies regarding ocean mining activities.
Moreover, every one of us should adjust our consumption behavior so that our global demand for resources decreases and so would the need for ocean mining.
By doing so, every one of us can contribute to a livable future for the next generations.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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