Deep-water mining could be bad news for seafloor organisms, say experts

Pop quiz: Would deep-water mining harm fragile ecosystems? An article in Science gives the shocking answer: Vancouver-based Nautilus Minerals’ pioneering plan to dig out gold, copper, silver, and zinc from hydrothermal vents in the South Pacific would likely create unpleasantness for the hardy organisms who live there. While Nautilus aims to mine uninhabited vents, suggested sites are a mere half-mile or so from thriving microorganism hotspots, and sediment drift could easily lead to “smothering, clogging, and contamination of vent communities,” says coauthor Jochen Halfar. Eh, they’ll be fine, says Nautilus CEO David Heydon, claiming that Nautilus’ method of grinding up deposits, pumping the ore onto a ship, and dumping wastewater back into the ocean will have no more effect than “cutting worms in half while digging in a garden.” Halfar notes that vent organisms have not been thoroughly studied, and the article calls for global regulation of seafloor mining.