Deep sea mining, also known as seabed mining, is the process of extracting valuable minerals and metals from the ocean floor. This practice has gained attention as a potential solution to meet the growing demand for resources such as rare earth elements, copper, nickel and cobalt. However, deep-sea mining poses significant threats to the ocean and its ecosystems, and it is essential that African governments represented by the African group at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) reject this practice and instead pursue sustainable alternatives.
One major concern with deep sea mining is the potential for damage to the ocean’s delicate ecosystems. These ecosystems, which are located in the abyssal plain, are home to a diverse array of unique and fragile species. The mining process, which involves the use of heavy machinery and explosives, can disrupt and destroy these habitats, leading to a decline in biodiversity. Research has shown that deep-sea mining can cause significant physical damage to the seabed, and can also lead to long-term changes in the composition of benthic communities, potentially leading to the extinction of species.
Another concern is the potential for pollution. The mining process can release large amounts of sediment and other pollutants into the water, which can have a detrimental effect on marine life and the overall health of the ocean. Additionally, the mining process can also release toxic substances, such as heavy metals, which can accumulate in the food chain and harm marine life. Studies have also shown that mining activities can release pollutants into the surrounding waters that can persist for years, and can affect the entire oceanic food web.
Deep sea mining also poses a significant risk to indigenous communities and local economies that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. These communities, which are often located in coastal areas, rely on fishing, tourism, and other ocean-based activities for their survival. The disruption and destruction of the ocean’s ecosystems can have a devastating impact on these communities, leading to economic and social upheaval.
Given these concerns, it is crucial that African governments reject deep-sea mining and instead pursue sustainable alternatives. One such alternative is the use of recycled materials, which can reduce the demand for new resources and decrease the need for mining.
Another alternative is the development of clean energy technologies, which can reduce the demand for minerals and metals used in traditional fossil fuel-based energy production.
In conclusion, deep-sea mining poses significant threats to the ocean and its ecosystems, as well as to indigenous communities and local economies. African governments must reject this practice and instead pursue sustainable alternatives that prioritize the protection of the ocean and the well-being of communities.
A ban on deep sea mining is important to protect the ocean for the future generation.
ACCRA, Ghana — At an open shed along the coast of Bortianor in Accra, one can hear the chatter of market women who hang around the landing beach most mornings in hope of buying fish to trade as fishers pull their nets miles away to the shore.
“Sometimes, it takes as long as four hours to bring our nets ashore,” artisanal fisherman George Kowukumeh said. “And over the years, we have witnessed a drastic reduction in our catch.”
There are currently about 150 fishing canoes operating at the Bortianor landing beach according to industry experts.
In Ghana, the artisanal fishing sector directlyemploy over 200,000 fishers, delivering 80 percent of total fish supply locally and provides livelihood to over 2 million people including thousands of market women in the value chain.
When it comes to fish, Ghanaian women have traditionally been confined to processing and retailing. The role of women is significant because they add value to fresh fish through processing, while distributing and preserving fish to ensure its availability long after the peak season and allowing it to reach consumers far from the landing beach.
However, the near collapse of the pelagic fish stock, which is the main target for artisanal fishers has left fishers and women in the value chain vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
A two-month investigation by Gideon Sarpong based on interviews with dozens of fishery experts, researchers, fishers and women in the value chain has shown declining income levels for thousands of fishing households partly blamed on climate change and the rise in ocean temperature. A non-existent government intervention program to support fishing communities, particularly women who are very vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change has left them to their fate.
Climate change impact on fishers and fishmongers
It is over three hours since the fishers began pulling their nets at the Bortianor landing beach. There is an obvious anxiety among the market women and fishmongers gathered at the shore who buy their fish directly from the fishers.
Agnes Lamptey, a fishmonger for over 30 years explains the reason for the anxiety: “when there is no catch, we do not get any fish to process for selling. We can’t even provide for our children. My children are in high school and are forced to stay at home when there is a meagre catch.”
Moments after the conversation with Agnes, the fishers manage to bring their catch to the shore. “The catch today is disappointing and full of garbage,” local fisher, George Kowukumeh said. “Several hours of very hard work has produced less than 500 cedis ($62) worth of fish for the 9-member crew, what do we do with this?”
Looking dejected and disappointed, some of the market women decide to wait a little longer for other fishing canoes that are yet to return to the shore. For the fishers, the disappointment is gradually becoming a routine as they quickly prepare to mend their nets.
In 2019, the Sustainable Fisheries Management research revealed that despite increasing fishing effort by the artisanal fishing fleet in Ghana’s waters, small pelagic fish catch has fallen by over 85 percent, from the peak in reported landings of 138,955 metric tonnes recorded in 1996. The researchers blamed climate change and other man-made activities such as illegal fishing as a major cause for the decline in pelagic fish stock in the country’s waters.
Dr. Opoku Pabi, lecturer and senior research fellow at the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana explained that, “fish catch is strongly related to surface water and atmospheric temperatures; generally, the lower the temperatures, the higher the fish catch.”
“This does vary somewhat across species, however: the catch for Pelagic (round sardinella) peaks when sea water temperature is at its lowest” he added.
Data from a research paper he co-authored showed that Ghana has experienced a, “steady rise in atmospheric and sea water temperatures since the 1960s, with the latter increasing by an average of 0.011degree Celsius yearly.”
The paper also noted that the: “end of the rainy season” which traditionally signals the start of the main fishing season has become very “unpredictable due to variability in rainfall distribution patterns, exacerbating poverty and indebtedness among artisanal fishers and women in the value chain.”
Traditionally, women in the fishing communities across Ghana – particularly, the queen fishmongers – have owned boats and financed trips, guaranteeing them a portion of the catch.
But this traditional system is giving way as profits fall. Fishmonger, Agnes Lamptey whose husband is also a fisherman counts her loses after investing in the day’s fishing trip.
She explained: “the fuel prices are expensive. I contributed 100 cedis ($12) to the day’s fishing trip and they returned with basically nothing. So can you imagine, I lose about 3000 cedis ($370) in a month if there’s no daily catch. We are really suffering especially, we the women. We need money to take care of our children and keep our business going.”
Steve Trent, chief executive of Environmental Justice Foundation, an NGO that monitors economic and environmental abuses has warned that any further decline in Ghana’s fish stock, particularly pelagic species would be, “catastrophic and have huge socio-economic costs.”
A 2021 studywhich focused on the effects of decline in fish landings on the livelihoods of coastal communities showed that decline in fish landings has “translated into low-income levels” for households that have directly depended on fishing over the years.
According to the study, 53 percent of fishing households maintained that they had seen a reduction in their incomes over the last five years.
Closed fishing season – a painful solution?
In response to the dwindling fish stock in Ghana’s waters, the Fisheries Ministry in April, 2022 announced a one month closed fishing season for artisanal fishers and semi-industrial vessels which began on July 1st. The minister, Mrs. Mavis Hawa Koomson in a statement argued that the, “closed season was agreed on based on scientific evidence and stakeholder consensus to reduce the excessive pressure and over-exploitation of stocks in the marine sub-sector which will help replenish the fish stocks.”
Despite the consensus among various stakeholders on the need to protect spawners from capture during the breeding season, fishers and women in the value chain in several fishing communities including at Jamestown, Elmina, Tema and Bortianor have fiercely rejected this directive.
Jacob Tetteh, spokesperson for fishers at the Bortianor landing beach insisted that the closed season must be “scrapped” despite admitting to a drastic reduction in fish catch over the years.
“The fisherfolks work is not like government work, what they get is what they spend in the house every day. So how will they survive during this period” he argued.
“What will happen to all the women and their kids who depend on the ocean for their livelihood? A loss of revenue for a single day affects the entire community.”
The fisheries minister did not respond to requests for comment.
The world has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius(1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the preindustrial era, and last year the oceans contained more heat energy than at any point since record-keeping began six decades ago.
To reduce the vulnerability of climate change impact on Ghana’s fishery sector, particularly women in the value chain, Daniel Doku Nii Nortey, deputy director of coastal resources NGO Hen Mpoano, has recommended a retraining and a skills development program for fishers and women processors.
The state must invest in “alternative livelihood training programs such as soap making, hairdressing, tailoring etc. in coastal communities,” Daniel said. “These will help families diversify their source of livelihood.”
For the many fishers and women in coastal communities across Ghana, the struggle for survival stares them in the face each morning.
“It is a hopeless situation,” said fishmonger Janet Mensah who inherited the trade from her mother over 20 years ago.
“I do not know what the future holds for me and my children in this profession, it all doesn’t make sense to me again. We need help.”
Reporting and writing by Gideon Sarpong | Gideon Sarpong is Hub Leader at SOA Ghana
Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) Ghana have joined the global call for a moratorium on deep seabed mining during an African dialogue on deep seabed mining which took place last Thursday in Accra.
Commercial deep-sea mining is a new threat that looms for our already imperiled ocean. If allowed to go ahead, research shows that it would irreversibly destroy ancient deep-sea habitats, impact those who derive their livelihoods from the ocean (for example from fisheries), and risk disturbing the planet’s biggest carbon sink.
Gideon Sarpong, Hub Leader at SOA Ghana explained that deep seabed mining poses an “unjustified threat to the health of our ocean, the climate and the present and future generations.”
He also called on the Africa Group representing the continent at the International Seabed Authority to “unambiguously represent the interest of people across the continent by joining the call for a moratorium” unless and until a number of conditions around environmental harm, good governance and social license can be met.
Duncan Currie, environmental lawyer and member of the Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition also called for reforms at the International Seabed Authority, the body that is mandated to regulate deep seabed mining explaining that terrestrial mining as it currently stands can power the renewable revolution.
“The argument is made that we need these minerals for a renewable revolution but this is simply not true, you cannot say there are not enough minerals both on land and in circulation to provide the minerals we need for renewable revolution” he said, adding, “once seabed mining starts there will be a massive industrial mining on the bottom of the ocean and we will have terrestrial mining alongside. Let us be real.”
The ISA, he explained has a conflict-of-interest issue. “There is a conflict-of-interest issue at the ISA as a regulator as well as a potential beneficiary of hundreds and thousands of billions of dollars,” he said.
“This certainly needs to be addressed. We suggest a moratorium is best, backed by another implanting agreement. You will need to separate the regulator and the body the receives the royalty.”
Phil McCabe, an ocean campaigner and member of Deep-Sea Conversation Coalition also described the proposed deep seabed mining as “completely inappropriate.”
“It is completely an inappropriate activity given the dire state of the environment in general. If you look at the ocean, every measurable indicator of the ocean health is in decline and we are talking about adding another pressure, another stressor, it is crazy,” he said.
SOA African hubs ultimately aim to galvanize stakeholder support to ensure that the youth’s position on deep-seabed moratorium clearly represented by the Africa group before irreparable damage is done.
Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) network of hubs in Africa have joined forces to tackle the evolving threat of deep seabed mining which threatens the health of the ocean and the larger climate system.
Deep seabed mining if allowed will “exploit biodiverse and fragile ecosystems that will result in severe environmental impacts that we cannot fully understand, let alone predict or mitigate,” said team lead Gideon Sarpong.
The hubs in Ghana, Nigeria (Lagos) and Cameroon will hold several regional policy dialogues and deploy a campaign to ensure that decision-making processes around deep-seabed mining by the Africa group and at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) are inclusive, transparent, accountable, adequately account for intergenerational equity and ensure the protection of marine biodiversity.
Gideon Sarpong, who is also the Hub Leader in Ghana stated that, “the knowledge gap on the topic of ocean mining and its potential environmental impact on biodiversity and ecosystems must be adequately communicated to decision makers.”
“The African group representing African states at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) should consider supporting the moratorium on deep-seabed mining, for at least 10 years, in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science” he added.
Meanwhile, Forbi Perise, SOA Africa Representative and Hub Leader in Cameroon hopes to engage more than 20 University lecturers and professors in two higher educational institutions in the DSBM African Coalition project.
“We plan to involve more than 500 students/youths in our effort in advocating for the protection of the deep blue. Through multi stakeholder engagement our goal is get more attention towards the protection of the marine ecosystem,” he explained.
Hub Leader in Lagos, Adenike Adeiga will also use this initiative to engage key stakeholders to strengthen regulatory frameworks governing ocean mining and call for the creation of Marine Protected Areas in Nigeria.
The initiative which is expected to last until the end of the year and supported by Sustainable Ocean Alliance will ultimately galvanize stakeholder support to ensure that the youth’s position on deep-seabed moratorium is unambiguously represented by the Africa group at ISA.
Fishing remains a major source of livelihood for thousands of people living around the coastal areas in West Africa. Despite this huge economic benefit, the ocean provides protecting these coastal ecosystems has not received the much-needed attention.
Among a number of illegal practices which threaten the livelihood of these fishers and aquatic life is chemical pollution. Chemical pollution is the usage of harmful contaminated substances that affect health condition of something. Manufactured pollutants of chemicals that threaten the ocean include pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, detergents, oil, industrial chemicals, and sewage.
Pollutants from the environment have its way to the coastal areas and enters the ocean. Nutrients packed fertilizers, DDT, chemicals for fishing, insecticide’s etc eventually ends in the ocean that triggers and rob the water for oxygen and affects the life of marine organisms.
DDT is one of the first synthetic insecticides that was developed in the 1940s and past figures have shown that as much as 25% of the worlds DDT production might have ended up in the ocean and a proportion of this has entered the marine food web.
These activities do not only affect fishers but aquatic ecosystem that is normally wipe off by the introduction of too much algae and phytoplankton with devastating consequences.
These together with other toxic waste harms the food chain of aquatic life. Aquatic life suffers when there is loss of fresh water and oxygen. We therefore are mandated as individuals to check the chemicals that we release into the environment to make sure aquatic life is protected.