Mind the seafloor

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 34-36
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap7301

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As human use of rare metals has diversified and risen with global development, metal ore deposits from the deep ocean floor are increasingly seen as an attractive future resource. Japan recently completed the first successful test for zinc extraction from the deep seabed, and the number of seafloor exploration licenses filed at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has tripled in the past 5 years. Seafloor-mining equipment is being tested, and industrial-scale production in national waters could start in a few years. We call for integrated scientific studies of global metal resources, the fluxes and fates of metal uses, and the ecological footprints of mining on land and in the sea, to critically assess the risks of deep-sea mining and the chances for alternative technologies. Given the increasing scientific evidence for long-lasting impacts of mining on the abyssal environment, precautionary regulations for commercial deep-sea mining are essential to protect marine ecosystems and their biodiversity.