Vast abyssal plains, mountain chains, and seamounts cover the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Each area is home
to life forms suited to its particularities—and each also holds valuable minerals that could be removed through
Hydrothermal vents spew superheated, mineral-laden water into their surroundings that, when cooled, forms
towers containing copper, cobalt, nickel, zinc, gold, and rare earth elements. These minerals are essential to
modern economies. The vent zones are biologically rich as well, supporting mussels, stalked barnacles, scaly-foot
snails, and a variety of microbes with potential biomedical and industrial applications.
Atop the Indian Ocean’s abyssal plains are more than a billion potato-size nodules with rich concentrations of
manganese, copper, cobalt, and nickel. On and near the nodules, wildlife—such as sponges, sea cucumbers, and
fish—has evolved to flourish in the deep cold and darkness.
Seabed mining is expected to have a significant and long-lasting impact on these deep-sea ecosystems. Mining
equipment would remove or degrade habitats, sediment plumes could smother nearby life, and noise and light
could harm the unique species that have evolved in order to live here.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA) was established by the Law of the Sea treaty to manage seabed mining
in areas beyond national jurisdiction while protecting the marine environment. The ISA is drafting regulations to
accomplish these objectives with rules on where and how seabed mining could occur. Its regional environmental
management plans, which could designate large no-mining zones, are a vital element of its efforts to protect
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Characteristics of Hydrothermal Fluids, and Vent-Associated Biological Communities,” in Subseafloor Biosphere Linked to Hydrothermal
Systems, eds. Jun-ichiro Ishibashi, Kyoko Okino, and Michinari Sunamura (Tokyo: Springer, 2015), https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-4-431-54865-2_12; InterRidge, “InterRidge Vents Database Ver. 3.4: Vent Fields,” accessed Feb. 5, 2018, https://vents-data.interridge.org.
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “Scientists Discover First Seafloor Vents on Ultraslow-Spreading Ridge,” accessed Feb. 5, 2018,
- Chong Chen et al., “The ‘Scaly-Foot Gastropod’: A New Genus and Species of Hydrothermal Vent-Endemic Gastropod (Neomphalina:
Peltospiridae) From the Indian Ocean,” Journal of Molluscan Studies 81, no. 3 (2015): 322–34, https://doi.org/10.1093/mollus/eyv013.
- Hiromi Watanabe and Girish Beedessee, “Vent Fauna on the Central Indian Ridge,” in Subseafloor Biosphere Linked to Hydrothermal
Systems, eds. Jun-ichiro Ishibashi, Kyoko Okino, and Michinari Sunamura (Tokyo: Springer, 2015), https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-4-431-54865-2_16.
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, “Bacteria at Hydrothermal Vents,” accessed April 6, 2018, https://divediscover.whoi.edu/hottopics/bacteria-at-hydrothermal-vents.
- Thomas Kuhn et al. “Composition, Formation, and Occurrence of Polymetallic Nodules,” in Deep-Sea Mining: Resource Potential, Technical
and Environmental Considerations, ed. Rahul Sharma (New York: Springer, 2017), 56.
- Qianhui Zeng et al., “Deep-Sea Metazoan Meiofauna From Polymetallic Nodule Area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin,”
Marine Biodiversity 48, no. 1 (2017): 1–11, https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12526-017-0778-0; Ravail Singh et al.,
“Nematode Communities Inhabiting the Soft Deep-Sea Sediment in Polymetallic Nodule Fields: Do They Differ From Those
in the Nodule-Free Abyssal Areas?” Marine Biology Research 12, no. 4 (2016): 345–59, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17451000.2016.1148822?src=recsys&.