Underwater Mining Threatens Mexican Waters
China Dialogue reported that a lawsuit filed against the Mexican government for denying a permit for seabed mining has put a spotlight on the lack of international rules for such practices. Without a clear international framework, the practice could lead to biodiversity loss and other environmental harms. If Mexico fails to win this lawsuit, it could lose its ability to veto extractive projects based on the precautionary principle, which safeguards against innovations that could have terrible human or environmental consequences, even though evidence for those consequences may be lacking.
In 2018, Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) denied an environmental licence for the “Don Diego” mine on the grounds that it could damage the habitats of loggerhead turtles, gray and humpback whales as well as fishing areas. That mine was promoted by Exploraciones Oceánica S. de RL de CV, a subsidiary of the American Odyssey Marine Explorations. Semarnat also noted the lack of a public consultation on the proposed operation. The project, which covers an area of 91,267 hectares in the Bay of Ulloa, planned to extract seven million tonnes of phosphate sand annually over 50 years. This would yield some 3.5 million tonnes of phosphorus. Faced with this denial, in 2019 the corporation sued Mexico for USD 3.54 billion of lost investment before an arbitration panel under the then North American Free Trade Agreement.
One of the major three kinds of seabed mining is for stones known as polymetallic nodules. To collect the nodules, which are rich in cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel, fearsome-looking machines would be used to scrape the seabed. The collected material would then be pumped to the surface through giant tubes. Once processed, unwanted sediment would be returned to the sea via another conduit. However, deep-seabed mining risks disrupting fisheries by disturbing habitats, polluting the water column and interfering with the ocean food chain, according to recent reports by Greenpeace and WWF Europe.