The hearing at the Belgian Parliament was convened as a consequence of a newly proposed resolution by two members of Parliament calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining activities. Giving evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Environment and Climate, the hearing featured presentations from scientists, NGO’s, representatives from the nascent mining industry, and the Secretary General of the International Seabed Authority. In his talk, Dr Haeckel highlighted that the polymetallic nodule fields targeted for mining activities are hotspots of abundance and diversity for highly vulnerable deeps-sea fauna. He further elucidated the results of the first MiningImpact expedition which revisited a site nearly 30 years after it had been exposed to simulated deep-sea mining activity. As shown in his presentation, tracks on the seafloor caused by the simulated mining were still clearly visible, and the impacts on marine life initially observed in 1989 still persisted in 2015. He further presented preliminary results from the latest research cruise in 2019, indicating that technology to sensitively monitor the sediment plume dispersal is available.
The debate taking place in Belgium is being followed with interest by experts and NGO’s in Europe and beyond. With the support of the Belgian government as sponsoring state, the company Global Sea Mineral Resources (DEME-GSR) is one of just 21 contractors holding an exploration contract with the International Seabed Authority. The contract allows the company to gather the necessary information on the location and quality of the polymetallic nodules they intend to mine. With GSR planning an expedition to its exploration area in 2021, the Belgian company is also one of the first to do a large scale equipment test as a first step to explore the mining of manganese nodules in the Pacific Ocean.
A recording of the hearing is available here. The resolution for a moratorium on deep-sea mining will be further discussed in the Belgian Parliament in the coming months.
With 30 partners from nine European countries led by the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, the MiningImpact project aims to establish a baseline of environmental standards before potential future mining of manganese nodules in the deep sea commences. The project will among others set up a monitoring programme to ensure an independent scientific investigation of the environmental impacts of the equipment system by the Belgian contractor DEME-GSR.
MiningImpact is conducted independently of DEME-GSR activities. DEME-GSR is responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions for its operations and does not receive any funding from the MiningImpact project. The MiningImpact project does not receive any financial contributions from DEME-GSR. DEME-GSR is further responsible to set up a monitoring programme for its industrial component trial as required by the International Seabed Authority.
Funding for the project was provided under the framework of JPI Oceans by:
- Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and Flanders EWI Department, Belgium
- The Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), Germany
- Research Council of Norway (RCN), Norway
- The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), The Netherlands
- Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) and Direção-Geral de Política do Mar (DGPM), Portugal