The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the East Pacific is a vast region targeted for deep-sea mineral exploration, for which there are almost no published taxonomic data. Here we describe Plenaster craigigen. nov. sp. nov. from depths of ∼4000 m in the eastern CCZ polymetallic nodule province. Despite over 40 years of intense exploration in the area, we reveal that P. craigi sp. nov. is the most abundant sponge and the most common metazoan encrusting on nodules in our study area at the eastern CCZ. It has a mean abundance of 15.3 ± 8.9 individuals per m2 across 11 stations in a 30 × 30 km study site nested within the Singapore exploration area. The white encrusting sponge is filled with spheroxyasters with occasional styles protruding the surface. Plenaster craigi sp. nov. is morphologically similar to genera from three different families in two orders: Timea (Timeidae; Tethyida); Hemiasterella and Leptosastra(Hemiasterellidae; Tethyida); and Paratimea (Stelligeridae; Axinellida). However, based on the molecular (COI and 28S) phylogenetic trees generated in this study, P. craigi sp. nov. was located in the Order Axinellida and appeared to be distant to Timea, Hemiasterella, Leptosastra, and Paratimea. We propose a new genus for our material to be placed provisionally in the family Stelligeridae, as it is the only family in the order Axinellida whose members possess euasters. This provisional placement may change when sequences of the type specimens of these genera and advanced phylogenetic reconstruction methods become available in the future. However, we have shown clearly that Plenaster gen. nov. is unique and distinct from all currently known taxa. Plenaster craigi sp. nov. being an abundant metazoan encrusting on nodule and easily identified filter-feeding animal is a potentially indicator species for future mining impacts in the eastern CCZ, and possibly across the entire CCZ.
Robust environmental management of deep-sea mining projects must be integrated into the planning and execution of mining operations, and developed concurrently. It should follow a framework indicating the environmental management-related activities necessary at each project phase, and their interrelationships. An environmental management framework with this purpose is presented in this paper; it facilitates the development of environmental information and decision-making throughout the phases of a mining project. It is based environmental management frameworks used in allied industries, but adjusted for unique characteristics of deep-sea mining. It defines the gathering and synthesis of information and its use in decision-making, and employs a conceptual model as a growing repository of claim-specific information. The environmental management activities at each phase have been designed to enable the implementation of the precautionary approach in decision making, while facilitating review of adaptive management measures to improve environmental management as the quantity and quality of data increases and technologies are honed. This framework will ensure fairness and uniformity in the application of environmental standards, assist the regulator in its requirements to protect the environment, and benefit contractors and financiers by reducing uncertainty in the process.
The New Zealand region contains untapped natural mineral, oil, and gas resources while also supporting globally unique and diverse faunal communities that need to be managed sustainably. In this paper key information from the international literature is reviewed that can underpin an Environmental Mining Management System which includes elements of Environmental Risk Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Planning. This paper focuses on four developing areas of seafloor mining activities presently being undertaken or planned in the New Zealand region: hydrocarbons (oil and gas), minerals, ironsands and phosphorite nodules. A number of issues with the implementation of environmental management systems are identified including the difficulty of assessing new marine activities or technologies and the need for standardised reporting metrics. Finally, the development of ecosystem-based management and marine spatial planning is discussed which will be required to enhance environmental mining management frameworks in New Zealand.
In Israel, the ever-increasing interest in mining and dumping of marine sand in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean (up to depth of 30 m) on the one hand, and the growing concern for the marine environment on the other, have led to the formulation of various policy tools intended for the rational management of this resource. However, the comprehensiveness and sustainability of this policy, and its adherence to international obligations and customs, remains unclear.
This paper provides a structured overview of the management policy governing the extraction and dumping of marine sand in the Israeli Mediterranean shallow waters, and the way environmental values are being taken into account in the regulatory process. It then examines the way in which two main international policies—UNCLOS (not yet ratified by Israel) and the protocol on ICZM (ratified by Israel), which provide principles and standards for the management of environmental risks associated with marine mining activities in the Mediterranean Sea—are transposed into local legal procedures and regulatory requirements.
The study reveals that the Israeli marine sand regulatory framework embraced most of the environmental principles and guidelines laid down in the main international conventions. However, several essential issues still need to be addressed. At present, the use of marine sand is usually managed with one key activity in mind, without an all-encompassing policy and monitoring program. As a result, the impact of cumulative effect of extracting and dumping activities (the “big picture”) is overlooked. The study recommends to formulate a sound policy that can be adjusted for social/economic developments as they occur, and can facilitate the response to a wide range of future scenarios while adhering to a sustainability agenda. This policy should be based on up-to-date and standardized data gathered through a national monitoring program and stored in an accessible database. The analysis method and results can form a basis for discussion with other experts working in the field, and may be useful for future management decisions and for other coastal regions in the world.
To be able to adequately assess potential environmental impacts of deep-sea polymetallic nodule mining, the establishment of a proper environmental baseline, incorporating both spatial and temporal variability, is essential. The aim of the present study was to evaluate both spatial and intra-annual variability in meiofauna (higher taxa) and nematode communities (families and genera, and Halalaimusspecies) within the license area of Global Sea mineral Resources (GSR) in the northeastern Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ), and to determine the efficiency of the current sampling of meiofauna and nematode diversity. In October 2015, three polymetallic nodule-bearing sites, about 60–270 km apart, located at similar depths (ca. 4,500 m) were sampled, of which one site was sampled in April in that same year. Despite the relatively large geographical distances and the statistically significant, but small, differences in sedimentary characteristics between sites, meiofauna and nematode communities were largely similar in terms of abundance, composition and diversity. Between-site differences in community composition were mainly driven by a set of rare and less abundant taxa. Moreover, although surface primary productivity in April exceeded that in October, no significant changes were observed in sedimentary characteristics or in meiofauna and nematode communities. At all sites and in both periods, Nematoda were the prevailing meiofaunal phylum, which was in turn dominated by Monhysterid genera and Acantholaimus. Our findings support the earlier purported notion of a low degree of endemism for nematode genera and meiofauna taxa in the deep sea, and hint at the possibility of large distribution ranges for at least some Halalaimus species. Taxon richness estimators revealed that the current sampling design was able to characterize the majority of the meiofauna and nematode taxa present. To conclude, implications of the present findings for environmental management and future research needs are provided.
To the Editor —
The emerging deep-sea mining industry is seen by some to be an engine for economic development in the maritime sector1. The International Seabed Authority — the body that regulates mining activities on the seabed beyond national jurisdiction — must also protect the marine environment from harmful effects that arise…
Commercial interest in deep sea minerals in the area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction has rapidly increased in recent years. The International Seabed Authority has already given out 26 exploration contracts and it is currently in the process of developing the Mining Code for eventual exploitation of the mineral resources. Priority issues have so far been feasibility and profitability of this emerging industry, while relatively little consideration has been given as to how, and to an even lesser extent, whether deep seabed mining should proceed. This article makes a case that the global community should question and scrutinize the underlying assumption that deep seabed mining is going benefit humankind as a whole before commercializing the common heritage of humankind.
With increasing demand for mineral resources, extraction of polymetallic sulphides at hydrothermal vents, cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts at seamounts, and polymetallic nodules on abyssal plains may be imminent. Here, we shortly introduce ecosystem characteristics of mining areas, report on recent mining developments, and identify potential stress and disturbances created by mining. We analyze species’ potential resistance to future mining and perform meta-analyses on population density and diversity recovery after disturbances most similar to mining: volcanic eruptions at vents, fisheries on seamounts, and experiments that mimic nodule mining on abyssal plains. We report wide variation in recovery rates among taxa, size, and mobility of fauna. While densities and diversities of some taxa can recover to or even exceed pre-disturbance levels, community composition remains affected after decades. The loss of hard substrata or alteration of substrata composition may cause substantial community shifts that persist over geological timescales at mined sites.
Deep-sea areas characterized by the presence of polymetallic nodules are getting increased attention due to their potential commercial and strategic interest for metals such as nickel, copper, and cobalt. The polymetallic nodules occur in areas beyond national jurisdiction, regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Under exploration contracts, contractors have the obligation to determine the environmental baseline in the exploration areas. Despite a large number of scientific cruises to the central east Pacific Ocean, few published data on the macrofaunal biodiversity and community structure are available for the abyssal fields of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ). This study focused on the macrofaunal abundance, diversity, and community structure in three physically comparable, mineable sites located in the license area of Global Sea Mineral Resources N.V. (GSR), at ~4,500 m depth. A homogeneous but diverse macrofaunal community associated with the sediment from polymetallic nodule areas was observed at a scale of 10 to 100 s of km. However, slight differences in the abundance and diversity of Polychaeta between sites can be explained by a decline in the estimated flux of particulate organic carbon (POC) along a southeast-northwest gradient, as well as by small differences in sediment characteristics and nodule abundance. The observed homogeneity in the macrofaunal community is an important prerequisite for assigning areas for impact and preservation reference zones. However, a precautionary approach regarding mining activities is recommended, awaiting further research during the exploration phase on environmental factors structuring macrofaunal communities in the CCFZ. For instance, future studies should consider habitat heterogeneity, which was previously shown to structure macrofauna communities at larger spatial scales. Acknowledging the limited sampling in the current study, a large fraction (59–85%; depending on the richness estimator used and the macrofaunal taxon of interest) of the macrofaunal genus/species diversity from the habitat under study was characterized.
Commercial-scale mining for polymetallic nodules could have a major impact on the deep-sea environment, but the effects of these mining activities on deep-sea ecosystems are very poorly known. The first commercial test mining for polymetallic nodules was carried out in 1970. Since then a number of small-scale commercial test mining or scientific disturbance studies have been carried out. Here we evaluate changes in faunal densities and diversity of benthic communities measured in response to these 11 simulated or test nodule mining disturbances using meta-analysis techniques. We find that impacts are often severe immediately after mining, with major negative changes in density and diversity of most groups occurring. However, in some cases, the mobile fauna and small-sized fauna experienced less negative impacts over the longer term. At seven sites in the Pacific, multiple surveys assessed recovery in fauna over periods of up to 26 years. Almost all studies show some recovery in faunal density and diversity for meiofauna and mobile megafauna, often within one year. However, very few faunal groups return to baseline or control conditions after two decades. The effects of polymetallic nodule mining are likely to be long term. Our analyses show considerable negative biological effects of seafloor nodule mining, even at the small scale of test mining experiments, although there is variation in sensitivity amongst organisms of different sizes and functional groups, which have important implications for ecosystem responses. Unfortunately, many past studies have limitations that reduce their effectiveness in determining responses. We provide recommendations to improve future mining impact test studies. Further research to assess the effects of test-mining activities will inform ways to improve mining practices and guide effective environmental management of mining activities.