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SOURCE: The Narwhal

DATE: March 26, 2019

SNIP: The deep sea, broadly considered the area of ocean below 200 metres, encompasses half of the world’s total ocean estate. To this day, just 5 per cent of the ocean abyss has been explored. It is only in the last decade that major advances in ocean-exploring technology, growing demand for metals used for tech gadgets, and the diminishing availability of these metals on land has created the burgeoning industry of deep sea mining.

This year, Canadian-registered company Nautilus Minerals Inc. is slated to begin Solwara 1, an operation in Papua New Guinea that will extract seafloor massive sulphides from hydrothermal vent ecosystems in the deep sea. Each year, this operation plans to extract 1.3 million tonnes of vent and seabed material high in copper, zinc, gold and silver.

Extraction requires a process of directly drilling, removing, and flattening down the vents and chimneys, essentially leaving a pile of rubble in its place.

“All deep sea mining removes material from the seafloor,” says Dr. Kirsten Thompson, a marine mammal scientist and ecology lecturer at the University of Exeter in Devon, United Kingdom. “In removing this material, the habitat and species that are associated with the ecosystem are destroyed.”

“For some types of mining, this destruction is irreversible on a local scale and recovery is not expected within our lifetimes,” says Thompson.

Before long, Canadian and international mining companies alike may start turning their attention towards Canadian waters — that is, if they haven’t already.

The Offshore Pacific Area of Interest off the west coast of Vancouver Island is of particular concern to conservationists.

This massive 139,700 square kilometre area has been proposed as a federal marine protected area, but does not yet have protections from future mining interests.

Dubbed the “Deepsea Oasis” by ocean protection advocates, the offshore area contains several hydrothermal vents and 87 per cent of Canada’s seamounts.

Despite the implications of the term, marine protected areas often allow for a variety of industrial activities to continue. When these activities overlap with vital ocean habitat, the results can be disastrous.

Before mining companies step in, areas like the Deepsea Oasis need protection in the form of firm guidelines against mining activities within marine protected areas.