So, in the interest of accountability, in the interest of continuing to make my book useful for public education about shark science and conservation even as the science and policy landscape changes, and in the interest of keeping notes for myself for any future updated versions of the book, I have been keeping track of things that I wrote at the time that are no longer true, or weren’t quite right at the time. (Please note that some of these facts and figures were already out of date at the time the book was pubished, but that was well after the final text was turned in).
“People think we are debating if this (deep sea mining) should happen or not, and that’s gone. It’s happening.”
One of the interesting things about deep-sea mining is that most of the people involved in the industry are environmentally motivated: the folks leading the charge for deep-sea mining and the folks urging caution have much more shared environmental values than coverage of the deep-sea mining negotiations would suggest. Which is why this quote caught me off-guard. Though an unapologetic proponent for the potential of deep-sea mining, Barron is usually much more diplomatic in his media statements. To declare that the debate is done seems reckless.
The deep-sea mining debate is most certainly not “gone”. It is, at the moment, more fiercely discussed that at any previous point in the industry’s 50 year history. While mining contractors have overcome significant political and technological hurdles to reach a point where they are on the cusp of the first commercial trials, the call for a moratorium on the development of the industry has more support, both within the International Seabed Authority, and without, than ever before. The invocation of the 2-year-trigger in 2021 jumpstarted the debate and forced the ISA to meet a deadline for finalization of the Mining Code, the legal structure that will determine when and how mining will proceed in the high seas.
Most of the plastic that enters our oceans in unaccounted for. While large, charismatic macroplastics float on or just beneath the surface, making for dramatic scenes of vast swaths of garbage littering the sea, the bulk of the plastic in the ocean exists as tiny particles of degraded plastics that sink to the bottom, enter food chains, and accumulate not just in the ecosystem, but within the tissue of marine animals.
If you’ve been following along with my adventures across social media, you may have seen that I recently inherited a massive collection of biological specimens from the deep sea. In addition to all the samples from my PhD work, I now have an archive that covers hydrothermal vents and methane seeps around the world collected over the last 20 years. This unique archive of biological samples provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish a baseline for microplastic accumulation in hydrothermal vent and methane seep species.
My objective is to establish a baseline for microplastic accumulation in deep-sea macrofauna from hydrothermal vents and methane seeps. This baseline will allow us to address key questions about the accumulation of microplastics in the deep sea.
Do microplastics accumulate in species that derive their food from the chemical energy in the plume of a hydrothermal vent? Does microplastic accumulation differ among non-chemosynthetic species associated with vents and seeps? Do patterns of microplastic accumulation vary among distinct deep-sea ecosystems and the general abyssal plane?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the weird and wonderful creatures that are part of this collection, including, of course, the iconic Giant Deep-sea Isopod (don’t worry, this particular specimen is staying on display).
Hey, Andrew, don’t you have a Patreon? Yes, yes I do. And I realize it’s super confusing to have two different fundraising platforms running simultaneously. Patreon supports this website, OpenCTD development, and my other weird projects. Experiment will be used to fund this microplastics study, exclusively. And, just to make things more confusing, everything I raise from Patreon this month will also go toward the Experiment microplastic project.
This month, delegations from around the world agreed upon a treaty to protect biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction — ocean life beyond the limit of any country’s borders. The High Seas Treaty represents the culmination of over 2 decades of debate and negotiation. Once adopted, it establishes a framework for the protection and equitable sharing of marine genetic resources — animals and their DNA; promotes the implementation of marine protected areas in the high seas; and creates a scientific and technical body to review environmental impact assessments for ocean activities beyond borders.
In the Last of Us, the most gruesome live-action adaptation of a video game about people being turned into fungus since 1993’s Super Mario Bros, a mutated species of Cordyceps destroys society by converting humans into mindless, sporulating mushroom people.
Cordyceps, a fungus that most commonly parasitizes ants, is real. It really does hijack its host’s nervous system, alter its behavior, and turn it into a spore-producing zombie. The outcome is strangely beautiful.
Though the current darling of gritty, realistic, science-based zombie fiction, Cordyceps is such a lightweight in the world of brain-breaking parasites that tech bros brew it into their adaptogenic coffee.
If you want to meet a truly unsettling zombie-making parasite, allow me to introduce you to Sacculina.
Sacculina is a genus of barnacle that parasitizes crabs. While most parasitic barnacles are perfectly happy growing on the carapace of a crab, Sacculina takes this partnership to the extreme.
Female Sacculina larvae drift through the ocean, until they encounter a crab. The larva then settles on the crab and searches for a joint in the crab’s carapace. Once it finds a gap in the arthropod’s armor, it transforms into a kentrogon, a specialized phase of the barnacle life cycle that possess a stylet–an organic syringe-like structure–which allows Sacculina to inject itself into the crab, and not much else. At this point, the hard shell attached to the crab’s carapace falls off and the barnacle continues to grown within its host.
Four years ago, I took over the Deep-sea Mining Observer from my predecessor, Arlo Hemphill. Conceived by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2016, The DSM Observer was created to be an online trade journal for the emerging industry as the International Seabed Authority navigated through the creation of an Exploitation Code for Seabed Minerals in the Area. Originally envisioned to run for two years, we continued to cover and report on critical developments into 2022.
After six years, the Deep-sea Mining Observer is coming to close.
There were also a lot of fascinating scientific discoveries, which this post will round up for you. As always, this is not meant to be a “best” or “top” list, so if your science isn’t included here please do not send angry letters. This is just some cool stuff I learned this year thanks to my amazing colleagues, in no particular order. Whenever possible I’ll also provide links to further reading on the topic. I hope you enjoy!
The third part of the 27th session of the International Seabed Authority, a meeting where the rules and regulations about how the deep ocean will be mined, begins today. If process is your jam, you can watch the UN negotiations here: https://isa.org.jm/web-tv
On April 28, 2022, I was invited to give a short talk to a gathering of Environmental NGO representatives to provide an overview and my perspective on the current state of development for deep-sea mining. Below is the transcript of that talk.
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me. Today I’m going to give you a very brief whirlwind tour of the current state of deep-sea mining and the policy regime around this developing industry.
The first thing I need to highlight is that we often talk about deep-sea mining as one cohesive thing, but it’s really four separate and distinct industries, all developing in tandem, with significant differences in the types of metals targeted, the technology necessary to exploit those metals, and the motivations for doing so.
As in-person negotiations on the future of exploitation in the deep ocean resume this week in Kingston Jamaica, we reflect back on the last two years of development as reported on our sister site, the Deep-sea Mining Observer. This article first appeared on August 26, 2021.
Deep-sea mining is frequently framed as a race to the seafloor. While that is not technically true–deep-sea mining has, in fact, been incredibly slow to develop as an industry, with nearly half a century of technological innovation, diplomatic negotiation, and environmental exploration under its belt without producing a single ounce of commercial ore–the deep-sea mining industry is in a race against the one major technological innovation that could upend the industry’s claim to being a foundational technology for the renewable resource transition.
The race is not to the bottom of the sea before fossil fuel consumption creates runaway global warming (with a 30-year-horizon, deep-sea mining is well positioned to facilitate the long-term transition to renewables, but is unlikely to make a major impact in the resource demands needed to meat the IPCC 2030 targets). The race is to reach commercial production before the evolving state of battery technology renders the majority of seabed resources superfluous. Battery chemistry is the x-factor that will shape the long-term prospects for the viability of deep-sea mining.