Echoes from the Deep

In worlds beneath waves
seamounts rise from
ocean floors,
cobalt shadows
casting spectral lures
for seekers –
a trove for tech
a ticking threat
as undercurrents swirl
in the miasma of misuse.
Clouds of dust
stretch willingly,
spreading plumes
of sediment
to smother,
and suffocate
the sea’s dismantled bed.
Rooted corals lie unfazed
as hunters and scavengers
flee in racing ripples,
far from the debris
of this mined and mired mound.
Life recoils from edges sharpened
by mechanical echoes
that now scar the seascape
with the discord
of our endless search.

Photo of mining apparatus operating on the seafloor (Image Credit: Travis Washburn).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that ocean animals vacate areas both around and outside deep-sea mining operations.

The deep sea is facing new challenges with many countries now exploring the possibility of mining its mineral-rich deposits. These underwater mountains, or seamounts, are known to be rich in cobalt, a crucial resource for technologies like batteries, but mining these areas could pose significant threats to deep-sea ecosystems. However, understanding and quantifying these risks has proven to be quite challenging, largely due to a lack of experimental data on the impact of mining activities in these delicate habitats, especially concerning the dispersal of sediment plumes. These clouds of dust, stirred up during mining, can spread over large areas and could potentially smother and harm the rich biodiversity living on the seafloor.

In July 2020, Japan carried out the first-ever real-world test of deep-sea mining in an area called the Takuyo-Daigo Seamount, giving researchers a unique opportunity to study its effects. Scientists looked at the impact on creatures greater than 1cm in size living on the seafloor, by taking photos before and after the mining test, both within the area directly affected and in surrounding areas. The effects of the underwater mining varied among different groups of sea creatures. Sessile animals, those that stay rooted in one place, like corals or anemones, had similar numbers in areas both directly affected by mining and nearby unaffected areas. However, mobile epifauna, i.e., animals that move along the seafloor like crabs or starfish, were found in fewer numbers in the areas directly disturbed by mining. Surprisingly, even creatures that swim freely, such as fish, were found in lower numbers not only in the mined areas but also in the surrounding areas after the mining test. This suggests that these disturbances have a broader impact than just where the mining occurs. This highlights the importance of monitoring a wide range of creatures to get a full picture of the impacts of deep-sea mining. The results also suggest that swimming sea creatures, especially those that hunt or feed off what’s left behind by others, might be more sensitive to the impacts of underwater mining than was previously thought.

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