The UK government has been talking all the talk when it comes to protecting the oceans. They are self-proclaimed ocean champions and they have dubbed 2021 to be a “Marine Super Year”.
Behind the scenes though we’ve discovered that they have some rather dodgy contracts with a dangerous emerging industry – deep sea mining.
Unfortunately you’re not dreaming, it’s not the year 3500 and the world isn’t run by evil robots.
Yes, there’s a whole industry that wants to mine the seafloor, and they’re already sending multi-tonne machinery down to the bottom of the ocean.
What is deep sea mining?
You might be thinking, “OMG, deep sea mining, is that really a thing?!” Unfortunately, it is.
Thousands of metres below the surface, deposits of metals and minerals like cobalt and nickel have built up on the seafloor over millions of years. It’s these minerals the deep sea mining industry wants to exploit.
Corporations have now started sending heavy-duty machinery down to the bottom of the ocean on exploration missions, and the industry (in their words) is getting “ready to go”.
But they can’t be trusted. In April 2021 one company, GSR, lost control of their 25-tonne robot, leaving it stuck 4,500 metres underwater for several days. Similar epic fails have happened in the past and there are serious technical problems with operating at such depths.
Deep sea mining companies claim they’re needed for a transition to low-carbon technologies like electric vehicles. But we could recycle the materials we’ve already got, and take new approaches to these challenges, rather than recklessly jumping to mine the deep.
Huge brands like BMW, Volvo, Samsung and Google have all supported a ban on deep sea mining until the risks are properly understood.
What are the risks of deep sea mining?
Deep sea mining isn’t happening just yet, but mining companies are racing to start operations and if governments give the green light it will soon be reality. So what are the risks when it does kick off?
The ocean floor is the biggest intact ecosystem on the planet, yet we know more about the surface of Mars than we do the deep sea.
Our oceans are already suffering, they’re facing more threats than ever before, so they need deep sea mining about as much as Superman needs Kryptonite.
Mining the seafloor risks destroying entire ecosystems we barely understand and could seriously derail the fight against the climate crisis. The deep sea is the largest reservoir of stored carbon on Earth – we disrupt it at our peril.
This isn’t the behaviour of ‘ocean champions’
Greenpeace has uncovered that the UK government has granted deep sea mining exploration licences in the Pacific Ocean to a company owned by Lockheed Martin – one of the biggest weapons companies in the world.
This is not a company that’s looking to make a greener and more peaceful world. They profit from war and oppression – their weapons are linked to unimaginable atrocities on innocent children, women and men all around the world.
Not only are the licences granted to a very questionable company, they’re also shoddy and full of errors. As you might imagine government contracts are very complex and let’s be honest – not the most exciting. There are some really important points that you need to know about though.
The government didn’t want us to see these licences and it’s clear why
Staggeringly, there’s no sign of any clear Environmental Impact Assessments. These are used to evaluate any potential harmful impacts the project could cause to habitats or animals in the area. The government’s lax attitude towards something potentially so destructive is extremely worrying.
Secondly, they were granted for longer than legally permitted – so they could even be unlawful. Greenpeace has written to the government highlighting this point but at the time of writing we’re yet to hear back from them.
Finally, the nature of the licences mean that if certain basic parameters are met in the exploration phase then the UK would be locked into full-scale deep sea mining with Lockheed Martin’s subsidiary, UK Seabed Resources Ltd (UKSRL).
It’s as if the government wants these licences kept a secret
Campaigners were trying to get their hands on these licences through the Freedom of Information requests (FOI) for nearly two years. Each time the UK government denied these requests, with the licences only being released by Lockheed Martin in March 2021.
Back in March 2020 the UK government said it has “not agreed to sponsor or support … any exploitation licences for deep sea mining projects until there is sufficient evidence”. Well that’s awkward… because the terms of these documents suggest they clearly have.
For nearly a decade our government has kept these licences hidden away from the reach of any public scrutiny and it’s clear why.
It’s time to bring this dodgy dealing out of the dark depths and into the public eye. These licences simply aren’t compatible with the government’s claims to be a global ocean champion. Ocean champions focus on conservation and protection, not further exploitation.
What does the government need to do now?
If the government really cares about protecting our oceans, it will help stop deep sea mining. They can help protect our oceans by securing a strong Global Ocean Treaty. The crucial final stage of negotiations at the United Nations are planned to go ahead this summer. You can urge the government to do this by signing the petition below.
Our oceans are already in crisis and are facing threats from all angles. This new industry can’t be allowed to add to the already urgent emergency facing our blue planet. This might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – except it won’t just be the camel’s back, it will be ours too.
Opposition to deep sea mining is widespread across the globe. In April our local groups throughout the UK were out in force to show their resistance against this dangerous new industry.