The Ghosts of Deep Sea Mining

Deep sea mining could prove detrimental to a newly discovered species of octopod which dwells near manganese rich crust zones.

The Casper Octopod, so named for its ghostly appearance and round shape, is a new species of cephalopod recently discovered living 4000 m deep off the coast of Hawaii. However, as the animals lay their eggs at the roots of sponges – which cling to mineral rich crust – the species is facing the risk of destruction through deep sea mining.

Hydrothermal Vent Systems (HVS) occur on the seafloor and exhale hot, 200-400 °C, mineralising fluids. Once this fluid comes into contact with seawater and cools, it precipitates metals. Vent systems are often extensive, meaning the potential for reserves is fairly high, and manganese (Mn) – a valuable commodity in the manufacture of steel, smartphones and batteries – can manifest as rocky crusts and polymetallic nodules around these volcanic zones.

Luckily for ocean fauna, deep sea mining has underwent many false starts due to a lack of technological advancement and high operation costs. However, that’s starting to change with revived interest and new mining claims in the Pacific.

In 2016, Russian geologists were the latest in a series of international mining companies to explore a region known as the Clarion Clipperton Zone to assess the quality of polymetallic nodules, a region close to the Hawaiian Islands where the octopods call home.

With the rise in demand of valuable metallic commodities, companies face not only the engineering challenges of acquiring these prospects but the potential destructive and toxic consequences to delicate seafloor ecosystems in their zeal.

It comes down to which has the greater value.

See a video of the Casper octopods here: