Deep-sea inactive sulphide ecosystems in the spotlight

Active hydrothermal vents in the deep sea are valued for their lush communities of strange organisms that rely on chemicals spewing from the seafloor for their sustenance.  Every vent eventually becomes inactive.  For decades, inactive vents were overlooked by the scientific community, but now that the metal-rich massive sulphide deposits at inactive vents have attracted the attention of an emergent deep-sea mining industry, there is a need to know whether there are organisms especially adapted to this habitat.  It is thus both timely and useful to discuss current environmental research on inactive sulphide habitats and to anticipate and prioritise the work that needs to be done to inform a precautionary approach to the regulation and monitoring of their mineral exploitation.  To this end, GOBI partner and Work Package leader Dr Cindy van Dover of Duke University, in collaboration with the National University of Ireland (Galway) and the Pew Charitable Trust, convened a workshop to discuss scientific considerations for the environmental management of inactive polymetallic sulphide ecosystems.

Thirty scientists from 15 countries met in Galway, Ireland, during 21-25 October 2019 to discuss (i) definitions of inactive sulphide ecosystems, (ii) potential upside and downside environmental risks specific to mining inactive sulphide ecosystems, and (iii) environmental management needs specific to inactive sulphide ecosystems.  A key challenge identified by participants was the paucity of scientific knowledge regarding the biodiversity and ecological characteristics of these ecosystems.  Workshop participants will present their deliberations and conclusions in both a scientific manuscript and in a science brief for the members of the International Seabed Authority, the agency responsible for protection of the marine environment from mining activities.

Participants enjoyed an excursion to Inish Mor, one of the Aran Islands