We are estimating biodiversity along the UK’s polymetallic nodule mining claims in the deep Pacific, using state-of-the-art molecular genetic techniques.
In spring 2013, a UK company announced its claim to mine an area of the oceanic abyss in the Pacific, in a region called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone near Mexico.
The claim covers an area of polymetallic nodules: rock concretions composed of a variety of metals such as manganese, nickel and copper.
Unique abyssal ecosystems exist around nodule deposits and little is known about their composition or biogeography.
We will be cataloguing the biodiversity around polymetallic nodules by joining multiple deep-sea cruises to the area over the next five years as part of an international consortium.
Defining a baseline level of biodiversity and genetic connectivity will help us assess the potential future impacts of nodule mining on local ecosystems.
Also known as ‘manganese’ nodules, these deposits build up from metals in the water, often helped by volcanic processes or microscopic organisms. They grow extremely slowly, only growing by centimetres per several million years.
When volcanic ridges run along the sea floor, they are periodically offset from a straight line. Regions where offset has occurred, but that are now away from the main volcanic and seismic activity, are called fracture zones.