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Protecting Our Coastlines: Seabed Mining

The state of California has an opportunity to protect its coastal communities, marine wildlife, and nearshore seafloor habitats by implementing precautionary closures of their state waters to seabed mining.

OPS is working alongside Pew Charitable Trusts to seek the prohibition of seabed mining in California’s waters through the California State Lands Commission 2021-2025 Strategic Plan.

As climate change, ocean acidification, increasing industrialization, and other stressors threaten ocean ecosystems, the sea floor will likely face an emerging new threat in coming decades: seabed mining for valuable mineral resources that are increasingly hard to come by on land.

Not surprisingly, seabed mining would have severe impacts on the ecosystem, including the direct destruction of living marine habitat like corals and sponges, sedimentation (smothering of marine life by the plume of silt or mud raised by mining), and noise. 

The hard-rock mineral extraction would involve shallow dredging at best and “skinning” about a foot off seamounts (underwater mountains) at the worst. Sponges and soft corals would be destroyed and other marine life smothered by the silt and mud plumes spewed by extractive machinery.

Kelp forests, eelgrass meadows, estuaries and other areas that nurture commercially and recreationally important fish will be impacted. The iconic marine wildlife, breathtaking beaches, tidepools and rocky reaches that help support a multimillion-dollar tourism industry would also be at risk. Even seabed mining exploration poses troubling environmental consequences.

Today, increasing demand for rare metals and advances in extractive technology could bring industrial-scale prospectors to the West Coast in search of gold, titanium, phosphorus and other increasingly valuable minerals that may be found on our nearshore seafloor.

Unfortunately, seabed mining is currently regulated under an inadequate patchwork of federal, state, and joint management. Most regulations, including those for California state waters, contain little in the way of specific environmental standards.

Oregon has already banned seabed mining in state waters. Let’s protect California’s incredible natural heritage by preventing this destructive practice in state waters.

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