What if we could go back and stop a destructive industry before it started? What if we could have prevented the harm done to communities, the violation of rights, the loss of life-supporting systems and wildlife?
If world governments knew the threats a new extractive industry poses to people and the planet, would they allow it to proceed?
These are the questions before nation states in the coming weeks at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) negotiations when the fate of such an industry — the deep-sea mining industry — could be decided. And as an Indigenous person from the Pacific who's spent their whole life working for the protection of the planet, this question is, for me, a deeply personal one.
The industry would target deep, remote, undisturbed regions of the ocean for profit. Giant tank-like machines weighing more than a blue whale would be deployed to scoop, dredge or cut mineral deposits from the seafloor. Minerals and metals that, to date, have been mined on land.
As concern grows over another threat to the oceans, multiple governments have voiced opposition to deep-sea mining proceeding. Earlier this week, Canada announced support for a moratorium in international waters, becoming the 18th ISA member state to express support for a precautionary pause, moratorium or outright ban on the industry.
But mining companies are determined to forge ahead. The industry has set its sights on polymetallic nodules — potato-sized mineral deposits containing copper, nickel, cobalt and manganese — used in electronics. The main proposed exploitation area is in the Pacific, known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone between Hawai’i and Mexico.
While we are only just beginning to learn about the deep sea, we already know the region is home to thousands of species found nowhere else on Earth and some that have only just been discovered in the last few years. Deep-sea mining would destroy habitats that took millions of years to form and risk irreparable harm to fragile and unique deep-sea ecosystems in and beyond the mining site.
In addition to the tremendous ecological significance of the area, the Pacific holds great cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples in the region.
As an Indigenous Fijian, our values and belief system, like most in the Pacific, sees nature in all its dimensions and people in oneness. Our way of life is structured according to the principles of co-existence and respect — this is what I want to defend.
As concern grows over another threat to the oceans, multiple governments have voiced opposition to deep-sea mining proceeding, writes Lagi Toribau @GreenpeaceCA #OceanSolutions #OceanConservation #StopDeepSeaMining #cdnpoli
From exploitive tuna overfishing to nuclear testing, I have seen far too many times the dominance of extractivism and competition over natural systems under the guise of progress via development, growth and consumerism.
We need to correct our course.
A way of life, traditional rights and knowledge and livelihoods of communities are what’s at stake here. Right now, global governments have an opportunity to go beyond weighing the stakes against potential profits and instead choose to centre our rights and knowledge and chart us on a path to protect a culture and way of life that can’t be monetized.
Deep-sea mining would be another manifestation of neocolonialism — a handful of companies based in the Global North profiting at the expense of the livelihoods and food security of Pacific communities.
Indigenous leaders representing 56 groups from 34 countries, including communities in Canada, have publicly called for a total ban on the industry. They are joined by industry investors and companies, hundreds of scientists, and a growing public movement of supporters that have also expressed opposition to the industry proceeding.
The federal government has pledged to support Indigenous-led conservation and uphold Indigenous rights.
While Canada has done the right thing by supporting a moratorium, it must follow its moral compass, stand with the people of the Pacific and lead other states to follow suit to help end the era of ocean destruction.
Lagi Toribau is the interim executive director of Greenpeace Canada.