Ecosystem Services From the Deep Sea

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 313 (Hynes Convention Center)
Stace Beaulieu, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA
The potential benefits that humans may receive from the deep ocean are still being understood, but may include discoveries leading to new products, such as medicines, and new knowledge about life on Earth. Home to a diversity of life, the deep ocean also contains mineral resources attractive to commercial mining operators. We recognize a need to better understand deep-sea ecosystem services, broadly defined as services that contribute to human well-being. This presentation will examine, from an ecological perspective, the pros and cons of the question – Should we mine the seafloor? Our goal is to provide the best available, objective, scientific evidence to inform policy.

Should we? Environmental impacts in many of the targeted habitats are likely to be long-lasting—longer than our lifetimes. We’ll describe new research related to the vulnerability and resilience of these deep-sea ecosystems. We’ll highlight three types of ecosystems that may be impacted by deep-sea mining: the sparsely-populated yet diverse ecosystems of abyssal plains where manganese nodules occur; hard-bottomed ecosystems—including deep-sea corals—at ferromanganese-encrusted seamounts; and extreme chemosynthesis-based ecosystems of hydrothermal vents.

Would we? In addition to the costs faced by commercial mining operators, there are potential costs to society of lost or degraded ecosystem services. New research is identifying the array of services from deep-sea ecosystems, which may have value through direct or indirect uses, such as the potential for the use of biological resources in industrial or pharmaceutical applications, or through conservation (non-uses). We’ll highlight the need for more information to estimate the economic value of services from these little-studied and under-explored ecosystems.

Could we? Some deep-sea ecosystems have legal protection within national waters, for example, those located within Marine National Monuments. However, many of the resources targeted for deep-sea mining are in the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, for which regulations for exploitation including environmental regulations are being developed by the International Seabed Authority. In parallel, a new international legal instrument is being developed for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.