Happy World Ocean Day

by Chris Armstrong on June 8, 2023

I’m off to do a talk to mark World Ocean Day, so this is posted in haste. The ocean needs advocates. It’s our biggest ecosystem, probably our biggest carbon sink, a major source of oxygen. It regulates temperatures, and drives weather patterns. Hundreds of millions of people are nutritionally dependent on fish. But the ocean is also increasingly central to the global economy, and facing threats like never before.

Climate change – which drives ocean warming and acidification – is the big one. But plastic and nitrogen pollution and destructive fishing practices are also major threats. Fish farming has an enormous environmental footprint, and now a Spanish company has plans to open the world’s first octopus farm. Plans for mining the seabed are close to fruition – or, depending on your view, they may be many years away, exaggerated to boost the share price of a few mining corporations. But one way or another, the ocean is more and more central to the global economy.

Today is a day to reflect on the kind of ocean we want: an industrialised ocean devoid of much of its present life? Or an ocean in recovery, teeming with life once more? After the second world war (when U-boats patrolled the oceans and fishing boats were forced to stay at home in much of the world) scientists were amazed at the recovery the ocean’s ecosystems had made in just a few years. Will they get the chance of recovery again?



Tim Worstall 06.08.23 at 6:10 pm

Technical detail here: “Plans for mining the seabed are close to fruition – or, depending on your view, they may be many years away, exaggerated to boost the share price of a few mining corporations.”

Assuming – which seems rather likely – this is about the Clipperton etc and the manganese nodules. If these can be brought to the surface economically then the processing of them is a known thing. Actually, given current metals processing techniques, trivial. There are extant factories which can take them and spit out the Ni/Cu/Co/Mn. Lovely ores they are in fact.

This has also long been known, it’s always been can they be brought up from the abyssal depths economically? One company at least (the one I’ve been following for some other work) says yes. I’m inclined to believe that claim. Wouldn’t want to have to prove it but do believe it.

This does mean that it becomes a political decision. It’s possible, will work as far as metallurgy and money are concerned. So, who wants to mine the deeps and who doesn’t? Sure I have my opinion but that’s not my point here. Rather, that choice has to be made.

There’s one more little twist here. Under the relevant treaties the exploitation licence (all work so far is done on exploration licences, so this one company actually has 3,500 tonnes of nodules that it can’t sell for processing because that would be exploitation, not exploration) is a shall issue unless thing. That is, there’s a two year period after request for such a licence in which the authorities must either issue or give detailed reasons for why not. It is not possible to say that more thought is needed, kick issuance into the long grass and make everyone die of boredom instead. Either the licence is issued within two years or the reasons why not detailed and then, presumably, appealed.

Again, I have my views but that’s not my point. That first licence has been applied for (pretty sure of that). So, those who oppose need to do so. This isn’t something that can be ignored.

My best guess – hey, this is the future and that’s difficult to predict – is that the nodule mining is going to happen and well within this decade of the 2020s. Making it not happen will require significant political pressure and changes to the current legal structure.

“Or an ocean in recovery, teeming with life once more?”

Leaving aside the nodules question one of the really interesting findings from Oz and NZ has been that fish stocks well above sustainable levels – so, teeming – are more profitable. So, ITQs (effectively, ownership rights to the fish) lead to higher than sustainable fish populations. Which is good. Add that to large no fishing at all zones and we might be about the best we can get to.


John Q 06.10.23 at 4:12 am

A tiny piece of good news. Facing the threat that the Great Barrier Reef would be placed on a list of endangered World Heritage sites, the Australian government has finally agreed to phase out gillnet fishing


That hasn’t stopped the government approving new coal mines, gas fields etc. but at least it’s something.

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