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Noise pollution from deep-sea mines will stretch for hundreds of miles, new study finds – ScienceDaily


A new study published today in a peer-reviewed journal Science investigates the potential of underwater noise pollution from seabed mining to affect little-studied species that live in the deep sea – the largest habitat on Earth.

A study by scientists at the Oceans Initiative, the National Advanced Institute of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, Curtin University in Australia and the University of Hawaii, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, found that noise from a single mine alone can travel about 500 kilometers ( approximately 311 miles) in mild weather conditions, with cumulative effects likely in locations with multiple mines.

The deep sea is home to organisms found nowhere else on Earth — many of which, given the lack of sunlight, likely use sound to navigate, communicate, find mating partners, find food, and detect predators and other dangers.

Seventeen contractors are exploring the possibility of mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a 4.5 million square kilometer (1.7 million square mile) area between Hawaii and Mexico and a major center for deepwater mining. If each of the contractors were to operate just one mine, the estimated 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) – an area larger than the European Union – would raise noise levels. This level of mining could not only have untold impacts on noise-sensitive species, but also undermine efforts to preserve areas unaffected by mining – known as “reference conservation areas” – for use in scientific comparisons.

“What surprised me the most was how easily noise from one or two mines would affect nearby areas that were set aside as experimental controls,” said Rob Williams, co-founder of the Oceans Initiative. “With so many unknowns, we need to carefully compare these conservation reference areas with mining sites to understand the impacts of mining. But the noise will cross the boundaries between conservation areas and mining sites.’

Craig R. Smith, professor emeritus at the University of Hawai’i, added: “Our simulations show that mining noise can impact areas well beyond the actual mining sites, including protected reference areas, which under the draft mining rules it is necessary that they do not touch. This finding, he said, “may require a rethinking of environmental regulations, including the amount of mining permitted within the CCZ.”

Although mining companies are already testing smaller prototypes of deep-sea mining systems, they have not yet shared their data on noise pollution underwater. So what Science The paper had to use noise levels from better-studied industrial activities, such as oil and gas industry vessels and coastal dredges, as placeholders. The actual noise levels from deep-sea mining may vary when the data becomes available, but says Andrew Friedman, director of the Pew Seabed Mining Project, it’s more likely to be higher than the proxy data, rather than lower, so that the real seabed mining equipment is much larger and more powerful than the proxy. “These are probably conservative estimates.”

Christine Erbe, Professor at Curtin University, said: “Assessing the noise of future equipment and plants is a difficult task, but we don’t have to wait until the first mines are operational to discover the noise they make. By identifying the noise level at the engineering design stage, we can better prepare for how it might affect marine life.”

The island nation of Nauru invoked a United Nations rule two years ago that could have forced the International Seabed Authority, the intergovernmental body that regulates all minerals in areas outside national jurisdiction, to finalize rules that would allow large-scale mining by July 2023. of the year – or consider mining proposals without internationally agreed rules. The move comes despite concerns raised by governments, corporations and civil society organizations that the science and governance surrounding deep-ocean mining remains inadequate.

The Science The study joins a growing body of research that finds it unlikely that adequate data to assess environmental risks from mining noise will be collected by the July 2023 deadline. For this reason, a growing number of countries, experts, corporations and environmental organizations are calling for an end to seabed mining until science and management techniques are put in place to ensure that mining does not harm the marine environment. . Pew’s Friedman said the study “underscores how much remains unknown about the potential impacts of mining, not just in the deep ocean, but throughout the water column.”

“There are potentially millions of species in the deep sea that have yet to be identified, and the processes that take place there allow life on Earth to exist,” said Travis Washburn, a deep-sea ecologist at AIST. “While much work remains to be done to determine the extent and magnitude of environmental impacts from deep-sea mining, with careful study and management, we have a unique opportunity to understand and mitigate human impacts on the environment before they occur.”

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