Deep Sea Mining And Noise Pollution
Animals rely on sound for a lot of things. They can use sound to find food, communicate, and even to picture their surroundings. A good example of this is how bats use echolocation to navigate dark caves, but there are many sea creatures who do the same thing in dark waters, such as whales and plankton. If noises in the sea become too loud, they can disrupt the animals’ normal activities, causing them to suffer.
Unfortunately, the oceans are about to get noisier. The main culprit? Deep sea mining.
Deep sea mining is a type of underwater drilling that retrieves minerals and other deposits from deep seabed. It’s growing more common in oceans all over the world, but it is known for being environmentally harmful. Thus far, the noise impacts of deep sea mining are relatively unknown. However, because many aquatic animals are sensitive to sound, such pollution could pose a disastrous risk to individual animals and entire species. As more mining projects are announced, it’s important to figure out the consequences that deep sea mining noise can have on animals — and fast.
A recent analysis aimed to provide some insight on a new 2023 deep sea mining operation in the Clairon-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a stretch of sea located in the Pacific Ocean, from the perspective of noise pollution. The researchers used a predictive model to estimate how mining noise will affect aquatic ecosystems and found that ocean noise levels are likely to rise because of CCZ mining. Specifically, they predict that roughly 5.5 million square kilometers of ocean will have sounds above normal resting conditions, and a radius of 4-6 km around each mine will have sounds loud enough to disrupt normal behavioral patterns in marine mammals. In short, this means that noise from deep sea mining will travel hundreds of kilometers across the ocean, which is much further than originally thought.
Scientists worry that current regulations won’t be strong enough to protect ecosystems against the dangers of CCZ mining noise. International guidelines on deep sea mining have yet to define what serious ecological harm looks like. As such, they have not outlined any safe sound levels for contractors to follow. Arguably, the reason for this lack of regulation is that there’s just not enough information about deep sea mining yet.
The researchers argue that without more data and stronger guidelines on how to effectively protect the environment from mining projects, going forward with the CCZ mining operation would be irresponsible. They urge mining contractors to publish their own findings from internal risk assessments so experts can figure out how mining will hurt the environment. They also suggest using strict environmental safety regulations at first, but later updating the guidelines when more evidence about mining and noise pollution becomes available.
Animal advocates can help protect the aquatic environment by calling for more research on deep sea mining and protesting deep sea mining operations until adequate data is provided. As more dangers are discovered, we can be hopeful that safety standards will improve and that aquatic animals won’t have to suffer from unregulated mining in the future.