Japan to Start Controversial Deep Sea Mining Operations, Despite Concerns of Environmental Impact

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Apr 23, 2024

In a world where everyone is being told to be careful of causing further damage to the earth, Japan is making a controversial move to go against that.

Japan has said it will carry out deep-sea mining operations within the next ten years, which has left many climate enthusiasts unimpressed.

The IUCN states that the deep sea mining process involves retrieving mineral deposits from the seabed around 200 meters deep.

The IUCN states that the deep sea mining process involves retrieving mineral deposits from the seabed around 200 meters deep. 

This is a black-and-white image of the deep-sea mining process. It included a pumped hydraulic system with a pipe and collector to collect the minerals from off the sea floor.

Source: Unknown Author/Wikimedia Commons

However, there is not much research on this process, so the effects on the environment and wildlife in the sea are mostly unknown. 

Japan Claims Their Deep Sea Mining Efforts Will Be Sustainable

Despite the research stating otherwise, The Cool Down has reported that Japan claims its deep-sea mining efforts will be sustainable.

This is an image of the sea underwater. Light is shining into the sea, and the waves at the top can be seen.

Source: Cristian Palmer/Unsplash

However, as little to no research exists on whether deep-sea mining is sustainable or how it can be made sustainable, this is highly unlikely. 

Japan Is Searching for Three Types of Mineral Deposits

Japan plans to explore three types of mineral deposits as part of its deep-sea mining efforts.

This is an example of polymetallic sulfide. It is a rock with bits of grey and yellow in the center.

Source: James St. John/Wikimedia Commons

According to Mongabay, this includes polymetallic sulfides, cobalt-rich crusts, and rare-earth mud. 

Japan Isn’t the Only Country To Carry out Deep Sea Mining

Japan isn’t the first country to look into deep-sea mining, as Papua New Guinea is also set to conduct deep-sea mining.

This animation depicts how deep-sea mining would occur in Papua New Guinea. A machine attached to a pole is working along the seabed, and a device on the end picks things up from the seabed.

Source: News Direct/YouTube

Even though the project was met with backlash, The Cool Down that it would proceed, much to the dismay of environmentalists.

Deep Sea Mining Causes Years of Damage

Japan first began testing deep sea mining in 2017, and its effects were studied for up to three years.

This is an image of a seabed. Rare earth elements are present in the seabed and are used to make materials such as cell phones and supercomputers. The rare earth elements look like small grey rocks scattered among the seabed.

Source: 60 Minutes/YouTube

The study, published in ads, concluded that damage from the mining was still present three years later. This shows just some of the short-term effects deep sea diving has on the environment. 


Sea Life Can Decline by 50%

Another study on deep-sea mining, published in Current Biology, showed the decline in sea life caused by deep-sea mining.

This is an underwater view of sea life. Various kinds of fish and coral are visible, with a path between them. Light is shining from above the water into the sea.

Source: Frimufilms/Freepik

The study found that numerous fish populations declined by up to 50%, showing the dangers deep sea mining poses to wildlife.


Other Countries Want to Ban Deep Sea Mining

Despite Japan’s desire to proceed with deep-sea mining, other countries call for a complete ban.

A machine that is used during the deep sea mining process going into the sea. The machine is made of metal.

Source: 60 Minutes/YouTube

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition says that some countries that have taken a stand against deep-sea mining include the UK, Canada, Fiji, Samoa, Costa Rica, and Germany.


Japan’s 2007 Ocean Policy Act

The idea of deep sea mining isn’t new to Japan, as they have been looking into this since 2007.

This is an image taken from the Japanese coastline. Some large rocks are in the sea near the coast, but the rest of the sea is clear.

Source: Winged Jedi/Unsplash

The Basic Act on Ocean Policy came into force in 2007 and was made to promote the use of minerals in the sea.


Ecologists Say Deep Sea Mining Is Risky

Due to the limited knowledge of deep-sea mining, ecologists have warned of the risks of this process.

A deep sea mining boat in the water. The boat is blue, red, and white.

Source: 60 Minutes/YouTube

The World Resources Institute has pointed out that deep-sea mining testing is still in its early stages, so further research is needed to understand the pros and cons before countries commit to it.


Ecosystems and Finances Are at Risk

Time has reported that it’s not just the ecosystem that could be at risk, as mistakes made by deep-sea mining will be costly. 

Fish in the sea. The fish are different colors and are all swimming in different directions.

Source: Daniel Corneschi/Unsplash

It is expected that if this goes wrong, it could cause trillions of dollars to fix.


There Are Plans To Stop Japan From Deep Sea Mining

While Japan plans to storm ahead with deep-sea mining, others are trying to convince the Japanese government to stop.

A deep sea mining boat in the ocean, with a small boat floating towards it.

Source: 60 Minutes/YouTube

These movements include signing petitions for a ban on deep-sea mining, banning companies from recruiting people for deep-sea mining projects and researching metal alternatives. Only time will tell whether Japan actually goes ahead with its plans or looks at alternative methods first.