Pandemic’s Impacts to Reach the Depths of the Pacific

A delay on high seas mining? 

The United Nations’ International Seabed Authority (ISA) planned to have its annual meeting in July feed into its 2020 goal to establish regulations on seabed mining. But with travel restrictions and lockdowns, that deadline may not only be missed, but also lead to fast-tracked, loosely-regulated mining projects beneath the Pacific. Many Pacific states – including the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga – have been or are increasingly in favour of deep sea mining, as COVID-19 has devastated local economies dependent on tourism, remittances, and international spending that is now being redirected elsewhere. Offshore mining contracts would boost their government revenues stratospherically.

‘Fast track’ could lead to race to the ocean bottom . . .

Canada’s DeepGreen Metals, which specializes in ocean deposits exploration, has mining contracts with Kiribati, Nauru, and Tonga, and has proposed invoking a UN rule that would oblige the ISA to approve mining with existing regulations if the ISA is not able to finalize new regulations. Critics say the current rules, and potentially any seabed mining, could destroy habitats and drastically affect seabed and global ecosystems. Concerns have also been raised about bribes-for-mining contract schemes in Kiribati and Nauru and whether enough scientific research has been done on the mining areas in question. Some analysts have even linked this research to the fight against COVID-19: medical research on deep water corals, microbes, and algae has led to insights on how to fight COVID-19; its cousin, MERS; and HIV.

Or turn the tide on sea-level rise . . .

Some of the best sources of crucial electric battery minerals can be found under the waves of the Pacific. These minerals and the batteries they will help power will help the world transition to electric vehicles (EVs), which is especially critical for Pacific states at risk of sea-level rise. A team of researchers from Canada with DeepGreen funding claims to have validated a more environmentally friendly way to source the ocean’s EV materials, and that it is less environmentally dangerous than relying on ores mined from traditional sources. Political concerns may also come into play in these decisions: China, Canada, and the United States have some of the largest potential contracts in a region with significant sway in everything from UN votes to freedom of navigation.