Beyond marine life depletion, the deep sea also is being threatened by the search for new sources for energy and precious materials. Oil and gas exploration now routinely targets seabeds in more than a thousand meters of water depth. Demand for modern technology devicesfrom cell phones to hybrid car batterieshas fueled a push by the mining sector to deep waters in search of new sources of metals and other materials.
"Vast tracts of deep seabed are now being leased in order to mine nodules, crusts, sulfides, and phosphates rich in elements demanded by our advanced economy," said Levin. She added that rising carbon dioxide emissions are exposing deep-sea ecosystems to additional stress from climate change impacts that include warmer temperatures, altered food supplies, and declining pH and oxygen levels.
"Extraction from the deep sea is a tradeoff. Is the value of what we're extracting greater than the damage?" asks Linwood Pendleton, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. "Are there ways to extract that might be more economically costly but have lower ecological impact? How can we repair the considerable damage that has already been done to the sea floor through trawling, pollution, and other practices? These are questions that we need to answer before industrial activity gets ahead of scientific understanding."
The deep sea holds a nearly infinite amount of genetic diversity, some of which could provide novel materials or future therapeutics to treat human diseases, but if not protected, these could be disturbed or lost before we discover them.
The need to preserve deep-sea ecosystems in the face of growing industrialization of the deep ocean, Levin says, requires a new "precautionary" mode of thinking about the deep sea that promotes sustainable, ecosystem-based management across industrial sectors and governance realms.<
|Contact: Mario Aguilera or Robert Monroe|
University of California - San Diego