Seabed mining causes irreversible damage to marine ecosystems—let your state legislators know that you want it banned in Washington waters!
The nearshore waters of the Salish Sea, around the Olympic Peninsula and south to the Columbia River, sustain diverse and fragile marine life as well as many human communities and cultures. Already faced with stressors like climate change and ocean acidification, this marine environment may soon confront another compounding danger: seabed mining.
Seabed mining includes prospecting for gold, platinum, titanium, nickel, cobalt, phosphorus and other minerals. It causes irreversible damage to marine ecosystems. And seabed mining industry interests could soon expand to include Washington waters. But with your help, we can avert this emerging threat.
The Seattle Aquarium and its partners are working to ban seabed mining in Washington waters—from the coastline to 3 nautical miles offshore, which is the area that the state controls. We hope you will join us in asking your elected officials to support this legislation.
What is seabed mining, anyway?
Seabed mining can be done in different ways, depending on the depth of the seafloor and the type of mineral deposit.
Graphic: The Pew Charitable Trusts
For example, gold, silver and copper are often found near hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. To excavate them, companies use vehicles that cut the hydrothermal vent chimneys and then pump the broken material in a slurry up to a ship. What’s left behind on the seafloor is a flat topography and compressed sediment that can’t support recolonization by the same species that were there before.
Nickel and lithium are found on what is known as the abyssal plain—a relatively flat area that’s too deep to receive any sunlight. Those minerals are mined with big vacuums, which suck up material and pump it to a ship. For organisms that need a substrate to survive, that process removes the only hard structure they could have used. The equipment also creates light pollution in an ecosystem with species that evolved and thrive in total darkness.
Cobalt—necessary for electric car batteries—is found on seamounts, which are underwater mountains and biodiversity hotspots. Machines like bulldozers pull off a foot of seamount crust and transport it to a ship. That not only harms the animals that were living on the seamount or seeking protection there, it can also diminish the upwelling that naturally occurs around an intact seamount and which serves to improve the food and nutrient supply for sharks, whales and sea turtles.
In each of these extraction methods, the machinery directly harms areas like kelp forests and reefs that are vital to sustaining fish. They also create plumes of silt and toxics that smother marine plants and wildlife and can travel over long distances, jeopardizing the health of plankton, salmon, marine mammals and more. Additionally, seabed mining generates noise—such as from breaking up rocks—that interferes with how animals like the endangered orcas communicate and forage for food.
What can we do about it?
Oregon banned seabed mining in 1991. We must expand those protections and prevent seabed mining damage in Washington waters as well—before it’s too late. We are supporting SB 5145, a ban on seabed mining in state-managed waters (within 3 nautical miles of shore), which is being championed by Senator Van de Wege and co-sponsored by Senator Rolfes. We testified in support of the bill in January and invite you to join us in helping to pass it into law.
You can help!
Contact your Washington state legislators. Email your elected officials or call the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 (TTY for hearing impaired 800-833-6388) between 8am and 7pm, Monday through Friday, to leave a message for all three of your legislators at once. Ask them to support SB 5145, which would protect our ocean, and diverse and fragile marine life, from an emerging and significant threat: seabed mining.
Do you own a business? Please sign and/or share the business letter saying no to seabed mining.
Stay tuned for more updates as we work to move SB 5145—and other bills that are vital for ocean health—through the Washington State Legislature before the session ends in April. Follow us on social media (@SeattleAquarium), find information about the Aquarium’s other legislative priorities on our website, and join our email list to receive timely action alerts and breaking news.