• arjun vikraman

Deep-Sea Mining Seabed; home to many new Coral Species

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Soumya Maniyar

5th November 2020

New Black Coral species Umbellapathes litocrada (Source- Reuters Photo)

Scientists have discovered three new black coral species on the seabed of the northern Pacific Ocean. In this area, several countries have contracts to explore for metals, including cobalt and nickel, key battery elements.

In an article by Reuters- according to a paper published in the scientific journal Zootaxa on October 29, the corals were discovered on deep seamounts and ridges in the mineral-rich Prime Crust Zone, which spreads from the Mariana trench to the Hawaiian Islands.

The newly discovered black coral species are so named because of the black skeleton they possess. These corals can also appear in various other colours, such as pink and white, because of the living tissues growing over the skeleton. According to Reuters, Conservation International said that the previous studies had found a black coral species that is more than 4,250 years old.

Reuters reported that authors Dennis Opresko of the Smithsonian Institute and Daniel Wagner of the Conservation International said that they are willing to identify deep-sea habitats in the areas that hold the highest cobalt-rich concentrations ferromanganese crusts on Earth.

According to Reuters, Wagner said, “These long-living corals are much like the redwoods of the ocean. They are not only slow-growing and long-lived but also provide important habitat for many other species.” He also added, “Mining their habitat could potentially wipe them out before we know their true value.”

Several countries like China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea hold the authority to explore in the Prime Crust Zone, according to contracts set by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a U.N. body in charge of regulating the ocean floors. Due to the potential threats of deep-sea mining, environmentalists worldwide have called for a ban on it- as it could extract and exploit valued resources such as cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese from seabed nodules and crusts.

The Ocean Panel voiced its concerns in June that many, yet undiscovered species could be destroyed because of the on-going relentless deep-sea mining activities. According to Reuters, Conservation International said that only 20 per cent of the ocean floor had been explored and mapped to date.

The situation of the coral reefs worldwide is dire and keeping in mind the deep-sea hazard mining of minerals could cause, scientists and organisations have urged for regulations to be placed for further exploitation. The Jamaica-headquartered ISA has drawn up regulations on the exploration of the seabed. Still, it has yet to draw rules and regulations for the exploitation of the resources and the seabed for deep-sea mining to continue appropriately.

As reported by Reuters- it has been stated by the ISA website, an in-person ISA assembly was postponed from July due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would now ‘most likely’ take place in early December.

(Sources- The Hindu, Reuters)

Edited by- Nivedita Dutta

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