Biologists Discover an Abundance of Life in Deep Sea Mining Target Area

Aug 1, 2016

Acnidarian attached to a dead sponge stalk on a nodule.
Credit Amon and Smith, UHM
A fish in a field of polymetallic nodules.
Credit Amon and Smith, UHM

A push to survey the seafloor for undersea mining has revealed an abundance of life on the seafloor in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) — an area the size of the US mainland in the equatorial Pacific Ocean being targeted for deep-sea mining.

Companies planning to mine for precious metals in international waters must complete environmental assessments before beginning their projects.  If approved, companies will comb the floor to collect concentrations of polymetallic “manganese” nodules.  These nodules are potentially valuable sources of copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese, among other metals, which has led to an interest in mining this region.  But before any mining can be approved, the area must be surveyed to gauge potential environmental impact.

Scientists with UH’s School of Ocean and Earth Science used remote controlled deep sea vehicles to inspect the seafloor as part of the ABYSSLINE Project.  The 30 square kilometer (18.6 mile) area that was surveyed revealed almost 200 different species.  Most of them owe their survival to the same minerals that companies are planning to mine.

Diva Amon is a deep sea biologist with SOEST. She said "the biggest surprises of this study were the high diversity, the large numbers of new species and the fact that more than half of the species seen rely on the nodules — the very part of the habitat that will be removed during the mining process”.

Amon says her team is planning more trips to get a better understanding before the start of any mining. 

The study was published in Nature