Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Luis Enrique Ascui/ADB)
Countries and companies could soon begin extracting rare metals used in a range of consumer electronics from the seabed floor on an industrial scale – something not previously allowed under international law. In a study of the potential overlap between key fisheries and deep-sea mining in a region of the Pacific Ocean, researchers found that three tuna populations are set to increase in this region by an average of 21 percent by mid-century. Conflict could result between the extractive and fishery industries – with the risk of substantial environmental and economic impact.
The researchers looked at projected tuna biomass increases in a region of the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico. They used previously published projections of climate impact on the distribution and abundance of the three most commercially important Pacific tuna species. Bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin are expected to increase by an average of 21 percent under both medium and high greenhouse gas emissions pathways. This suggests that tuna will move to this zone “regardless of the climate-change scenario”, according to the researchers. They add that the interactions between deep-sea mining, fish populations and climate change are “complex and unknown”.
But the projected increased overlap between eastern Pacific tuna fisheries and deep-sea mining areas could result in “increasing conflict” – alongside the other environmental and economic impacts in a “climate-altered ocean”.
More information on the ecology of the open ocean is needed before potentially damaging activities such as deep-sea mining are allowed. With the climate and biodiversity crises unfolding right in front of us, it is critical to consider whether a new industry is really needed. If it is, then it is necessary to be sure that it bears the costs of its environmental impact rather than saddle the burden on nations that can least afford to pay.