If a tree falls in the ocean but only deep-sea mammals hear it, did it really fall? On the other hand: if miners effectively jackhammer the ocean floor, and only the small deep-sea mammals can hear it, should we care? The answer, researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and Oceans Initiative say, is yes.
A study this year on the effects of underwater noise created by deep sea mining found that noise could travel as far as 500 km underwater, disturbing vast amounts of marine life. Whales and large marine mammals communicate using sound, and although other organisms deeper in the ocean have not been studied extensively, it is very likely that in the absence of sunlight, sound is used by many species.
Putting aside concerns over these organisms’ ability to communicate, the volume of noise generated by mines is detrimental to marine life. The study took place along a section of the seafloor between Hawai’i and Mexico which is being considered by contractors for deep-sea mining. Researchers predict that, if every contractor were to place one mine, the noise created would be above ambient noise levels, and would actually exceed 120 underwater decibels. This surpasses a threshold of what is healthy for marine life put forth by the US National Marine Fisheries Service.
The ocean floor is one of the least-studied areas in our world, and scientists are desperately calling for time to study more about how things like deep-sea mining will affect these fragile, mysterious organisms.
Quach, H. (2022, July 20). Deep-sea mining noise pollution will stretch hundreds of miles. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Oceanography. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.soest.hawaii.edu/oceanography/deep-sea-mining-noise-pollution-will-stretch-hundreds-of-miles/#:~:text=A%20study%20on%20underwater%20noise,the%20largest%20habitat%20on%20Earth.
Williams, R., Erbe, C., Duncan, A., Nielsen, K., Washburn, T., & Smith, C. (2022). Noise from deep-sea mining may span vast ocean areas. Science, 377(6602), 157–158. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abo2804