Effects of a deep-sea mining experiment on seafloor microbial communities and functions after 26 years

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Science Advances  29 Apr 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 18, eaaz5922
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz5922


Future supplies of rare minerals for global industries with high-tech products may depend on deep-sea mining. However, environmental standards for seafloor integrity and recovery from environmental impacts are missing. We revisited the only midsize deep-sea disturbance and recolonization experiment carried out in 1989 in the Peru Basin nodule field to compare habitat integrity, remineralization rates, and carbon flow with undisturbed sites. Plough tracks were still visible, indicating sites where sediment was either removed or compacted. Locally, microbial activity was reduced up to fourfold in the affected areas. Microbial cell numbers were reduced by ~50% in fresh “tracks” and by <30% in the old tracks. Growth estimates suggest that microbially mediated biogeochemical functions need over 50 years to return to undisturbed levels. This study contributes to developing environmental standards for deep-sea mining while addressing limits to maintaining and recovering ecological integrity during large-scale nodule mining.

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