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Scripps Professor To Discuss Ethics Of Deep Sea Mining

Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Lisa Levin stands near the Scripps Pier talking about the worrying trend of falling oxygen levels in ocean waters around the world, Jan. 3, 2018.
Nicholas McVicker
Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Lisa Levin stands near the Scripps Pier talking about the worrying trend of falling oxygen levels in ocean waters around the world, Jan. 3, 2018.
Scripps Professor To Discuss Ethics Of Deep Sea Mining
Scripps Professor To Discuss Ethics Of Deep Sea Mining GUEST:Lisa Levin, professor of biological oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

>>> After humans exploit and deplete the available fuel and mineral resources on land, some look to the Ocean. More precisely the deep Ocean. NOAA's office of ocean exploration and research says we only explored 5% of the oceans surface. But new research is getting to depth humans have never seen. When it comes unlocking the vast resources in the deep ocean, scientists are were using are raising concerns about the ethics involved at who owns the resources and how can we get the proper extraction and use. Joining me is Lisa Levin the doctor of oceanography at UC San Diego. Professor Levin welcome to the program. Can you start by defining while -- what the deep ocean is and how it differs from the shallow ocean. >> The scientist define the deep ocean is pretty much anything below 200 meters or about 600 feet. This is most of the Ocean. It is about 95% or more of the habitable volume on this planet. These are truly vast areas. There are a number of features that set them apart from shallow waters. Partly the vast size. They are very remote, they are often isolated from people. These areas are difficult to reach. It is very expensive to mount expeditions there. as a result there has not been much exploration. We have discovered for the few systems we have really had a system -- chance to look at in detail is that the animals can be long-lived. Fish can live for hundreds of years for example. And the invertebrates like deepwater corals or sponges can live literally for thousands of years. This means if we disturb these environments, the animals will recover very slowly. >>> How are we able to explore the deep ocean now? What technologies are scientists using ? >> for more than 100 years we had chips. It has been very difficult for the ship cables on the ships to reach the deepest parts of the sea. That is no longer a problem. We have technology that involves all kinds of instruments that can now reach to the full ocean depth of almost 11,000 meters. These measure the chemistry, currents in the water, they take images or video of the seafloor, humans can go down in submarines, we have very detailed mapping capabilities, we could map the seafloor down to less than an inch, we have satellites that also help us understand what the shape of the ocean and ocean floors like. >>> What kinds of resources are scientists finding at the steps. >>> There is an amazing wealth of resources particularly interested in the mineral resources. There are a variety of settings that provide gold, silver, copper, nickel, cobalt, much more. There is now interest in extracting these resources from the sea floor. >>> Is there any deep-sea that mining going on now ? does that technology exist? >> It is under development. There has been no deep-sea mining I should say deep sea bed mining today. There are many claims in the deep Ocean. In international waters, there is about 27 claims for vast areas. But within nations exclusive economic zones, there are actually hundreds of exploration claims. >>> Who owns the resources of the deep ocean? Is it most of that file into the realm of international waters ? what do you mean by claims in international waters ? what does that consist of ? >> You are correct that most of the ocean and most of the ocean floor, 60%, falls in international waters beyond the jurisdiction of nations. The resources there are in fact owned by all of the people of the planet. This is called the common heritage of mankind. The resources are administered by an agency within the United Nations, the international seabed Authority. The seabed Authority will actually grant nations certain areas of the seafloor for exploration of many areas minerals at this point with the anticipation that these will eventually be mined. >>> This is a tantalizing dilemma for ocean scientists. In many instances the only way to see and research the deep-sea is for a private company to pay for it. That company will want to use the resources to fuel whatever that is extract did even if it hurts the deep ocean environment. How do scientists approach this problem? >> Many scientists feel with this new industry on the horizon, it is important that an accurate assessment of the ecosystems occur. They are actually working for the contractors to provide baseline data. This means the background information about the physical, chemical, biological environments. With the idea that only the deep-sea scientists really have the capability of identifying the organisms and describing what is there so that the impacts of mining should it occur, would be adequately assessed. The other benefit to working with these contractors is that new areas are being explored that nobody has ever visited before. The scientists are finding a huge wealth of biodiversity. On the other side, there are many people and scientists who believe that any work the scientist does with the contractors will accelerate the development of this new industry seabed mining and many feel that this is an environment that we know so little about that nobody should be going there with the thought of mining resources. >>> What has your personal experience been in working with entities that want to explore the potential of seabed mining. >> I come down on the side that if this industry is going to occur, the environment has to be regulated. I work with the group that helps the international seabed Authority with the development of environmental regulations. I also think that the science has to be top-notch. And that deep-sea scientists should be involved. On the other hand, there are many knowledge gaps that need to be filled before we should be making final decisions about whether or not to mine these ecosystems down there. >>> Seabed mining in the deep-sea is the subject of tonight's discussion at the center of ethics in science technology at the Fleet science Center. I have been speaking with the guest of tonight's event Doctor Lisa Lewen. Professor Levin thank you very much . >> you are very welcome.

After humans exploit and deplete the available fuel and mineral resources on land, some are now looking to the ocean. And more precisely — the deep ocean.

According to NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, humans have only explored 5 percent of the planet’s oceans. But new technology is allowing research into depths never seen before.

When it comes to unlocking the vast resources in the deep ocean, scientists are raising concerns about the ethics involved. Who owns those resources? How can the proper extraction and use of those resources be regulated?

Lisa Levin, a professor of biological oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, joins Midday Edition on Wednesday to speak about the issue.

Levin will be speaking about the ethics of deep sea mining at the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology's Wednesday evening event at the Fleet Science Center.