University of Hawaii oceanography professor Craig Smith and a team of scientists from around the world have proposed a strategy to balance the battle between deep-sea mining interests and ecosystem sustainability.

The paper, published this week in Science magazine, is intended to inform upcoming discussions by the International Seabed Authority and set the groundwork for future deep-sea environmental protection and mining regulations, according to a UH news release Thursday.

New species deep sea

A new species collected at 4,100 meters in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone that lives on sponge stalks attached to nodules.

Craig Smith and Diva Amon/ABYSSLINE Project

“Deep-sea areas targeted by mining claims frequently harbor high biodiversity and fragile habitats, and may have very slow rates of recovery from physical disturbance,” Smith said in the release.

The ISA has granted 26 mining exploration contracts covering more than 1 million square kilometers of seabed since 2011. Eighteen of these contracts were granted in the last four years, according to the release.

Researchers are recommending ISA take a precautionary approach and set up networks of marine protected areas before additional large claims are granted.

Scientists and other fear mining impacts could threaten environmental benefits that the deep sea provides to people, like capturing human-emitted carbon which impacts both weather and climate, the release says.

The deep sea also sustains economically important fisheries and harbors microorganisms known as extremophiles, which have proven valuable in a number of pharmaceutical, medical, and industrial applications, the release says.

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