Plundering the Oceans for Profit
Deep-sea mining, gouging the ocean floor for gold, and other environmental damage forms will harm all of us.
Every drop in the ocean counts. — Yoko Ono
Gold-rush fever sent hoards of men racing to the Pacific Northwest, where they raped the landscape, employed workers from China who were treated poorly, and left desolation behind. In the East, coal mining companies engaged in horribly gouging the land, leaving a scarred wasteland in their wake. Ponds of poisonous water filled the wells and rivers where the people lived.
We are now preparing to mine the Moon and, possibly, Mars in our craving for money. Our Earthly oceans have not been spared from the damage of this greed, which has begun in earnest as rich new sources of precious metals are discovered on the ocean floor.
The removal of the minerals destroys everything in its path. But companies claim it will only take 10 years for the oceans to return to their former state. In 10 years, what will live there as the oceans “return” to their natural state? Without a food source, fish won’t be there, and neither will other forms of life. It is a highly inter-dependent life chain, and it will be destroyed.
Initial patches of ocean floors mapped out by one company indicated it has the equivalent of 10 football fields.
“The sea is a dynamic and interconnected environment. The impacts of even a single mine will not be contained to the deep sea. There are vertical currents called upwellings as well as horizontal currents that operate at different depths in the water column. Together these could carry the sediment plumes that would be generated by the mining process over significant distances.”
The Ruin of Ocean Mining
Dredging, using plow-like devices and powerful vacuum equipment, will uproot anything in its path, whether corals or mineral-rich nodules.
Researchers are only beginning to learn how deep-sea mining may affect benthic organisms. For this reason, many organizations are calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until environmental impacts are more fully understood. In 2019, the prime minister of Fiji joined these calls with the backing of several other Pacific island nations. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in 2018 urging its member states to stop sponsoring deep-sea mining and to invest in more sustainable consumption of materials.
Sediment plumes are considered the greatest ecological threat posed by deep-sea mining, appearing to cause lasting damage to microbial life. If mining operations scale up, noise could increasingly affect whales and other animals that rely on echolocation, while light pollution could affect animals that use bioluminescence.
“We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s down there. The loss of biodiversity due to mining activities will be inevitable and permanent on a human scale, as nodules take millions of years to form,” said Matthew Gianni, cofounder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
An Ecosystem With Promise Destroyed
Today, medications often come from natural sources, such as aspirin, which comes from the willow tree. Penicillin, which was first formulated in the 1940s and has saved too many lives to mention, is derived from a common bread mold, and many other drugs have been extracted from land-dwelling organisms.
But the oceans hold promise still to be realized and if we destroy the natural habitat, we ruin our ability to benefit from these medicines.
Scientists indicate that forms of enzymes and drugs found in marine invertebrates may produce antibiotics, anticancer and anti-inflammatory drugs. Even sponges and simple corals or mollusks and sea worms may give us access to anti-tumor agents as well as treatments for leukemia and melanoma.
The sea whip we now know has a substance in it that is both an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic agent that can control swelling, skin irritation, and aid in wound healing. Where will all of these patients get these vital medications if we destroy the source?
One Gold Destroyed for Another
Any patient in pain or suffering from severe inflammation waits for the “gold” administered in a syringe, an infusion, or a pill. This gold comes from the ocean, although they couldn’t care less. When you are in pain, you pray for relief.
Today, the destruction of the ocean floor is a source of entertainment. Unbelievable, I know, but tune in on your TV to see “Bering Sea Gold” now in its 15th season, and you’ll have some idea of the frenzy associated with extracting gold from the seafloor.
A Human Rights Issue
However, the frantic search for minerals and oil is not without challenges now as Norway begins a case to decide further drilling in its area. The case revolves around citizens’ rights to a clean, healthy environment and climate change.
The use of human rights in climate change litigation was a “recent phenomenon” pushed forward by groups who felt that they had run out of other options to force action, said Ole W. Pedersen, a professor of environmental and energy law at Newcastle Law School in England. “It’s a last resort.”
Warding off doom’s day won’t be easy as climate change is already ravaging the air we breathe and freeing trapped methane gases from Arctic ice. But the struggle for health, life, and the future of the planet demand action.