Researchers warn that seafloor mining will endanger some 5,500 entirely new species discovered in the Clipperton Fracture Zone (CFZ), found between Hawaii and Mexico.
The article, which was released in the journal Current Biology, is the first thorough investigation of the CFZ's biodiversity. The research highlights that about 90% of the newly discovered species have never been seen before. It also stresses the importance of this study and others to help mining companies and authorities assess the risk of extinction of these species.
The study Species Assembly Networks Identify Regional Connectivity Pathways Between Hydrothermal Vents in the Pacific Northwest, previously warned that while key minerals and metals abound in these deposits, their extraction destroys critical marine ecosystems. “These chimneys contain a large quantity and quality of gold, silver, copper and other rare earth minerals that we need to feed our technology-hungry community. Each hydrothermal vent often hosts some endemic species, meaning they only live there. So if you remove or severely damage their ecosystem, not only have you lost those animals, but you have lost that species entirely,” said Otis Brunner, an author of the paper and Ph.D. Candidate, the Okinawa institute of Science and Technology.
Brunner emphasized that the damage would go beyond the exploited hydrothermal vent ecosystem, affecting other vents kilometers away. While these vents are isolated, their species move from one vent to another due to ocean currents.
The existence of rare minerals in the deepest part of the ocean has been known since the 1860s. The sea floor contains the same minerals found on land, as well as minerals unique to the ocean such as ferromanganese crusts, polymetallic nodules and seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits. Deep-sea reserves are estimated to be worth between US$8 trillion and US$16 trillion, as reported by Prospector. However, several countries have called for a global ban on deep-sea mining activities until more research is done and better technology is developed to take care of the environment.
Nevertheless, not all countries support this position. For instance, China is expected to remain the leader in deep-sea mining exploration efforts, while Nauru announced it will start exploring the ocean in June 2023. In addition, G7 countries said that they will allow deep-sea mining if it does not seriously damage the environment.
While Mexico does not carry out deep-sea mining yet, the country has a significant opportunity to do so. It has oceans on two sides and is located right next to the most prolific region for marine mining, the Clipperton Fracture Zone. Mexico’s mineral reserves have been estimated to contain 21 billion t of polymetallic nodules, which contain about 6 billion t of manganese, 226 million t of copper, 94 t of cobalt and 270 million t of nickel.