Despite increasing commitments to implement a moratorium on deep-sea mining – including from the European Parliament and from leading industry players– the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) approved three seabed minerals exploration licenses mid- February.
The debate surrounding deep-sea and seabed mining has predominantly focused on the physical destruction of the seafloor and sediment plumes, especially during potential exploitation. A lesser-known harmful effect of seabed mining is underwater noise, caused by noise emissions from vessels and active acoustic exploration (e.g. sonar and seismic surveys), which are relevant to seabed mining activities during the early stages of the process.
It is therefore especially worrying to acknowledge that there is no evidence that environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have been conducted by the companies involved. And while Prime Minster Brown’s remarks, that the «Government is only allowing exploration at this stage, and has not made any decision on whether future minerals harvesting may proceed» may be encouraging, they nevertheless neglect the damages to the environment generated from exploration activities. The absence of a transparent and robust environmental impact assessment process by the companies involved moreover neglects to appreciate the Cook Island’s international commitments, which includes the need to apply the CMS Family Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments prior to noise generating activities.
«The CMS Family Guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessment for Marine Noise-generating Activities have been developed to present best available practice and are designed to provide detailed advice on how to assess the impact of noise-generating activities on the environment, in particular marine species. Without such an assessment, including a review process by independent researchers, before an activity is approved, the impacts cannot be fully understood. This also applies to the exploration-phase of a project» says Nicolas Entrup, Director International Relations at OceanCare.
The OceanCare Report Deep-Sea Mining: A noise affair specifically addresses the impacts of acoustic exploration in the deep-sea and on the seabed. The Report concludes that while more research needs to be conducted, enough evidence is known from activities by peer industries that the impacts of noise on the marine environment can be extrapolated. There is hence little doubt that underwater noise pollution from deep-sea and seabed mining has great potential to harm the marine ecosystem, including during exploration activities.
Foto: V. Gordeev/shuttestock.com