In October 2017, Seas At Risk together with its Portuguese members organised a conference on ‘Deep sea mining – A sustainable choice for Portugal?’, which was attended by over 100 participants, including Portuguese and Azorean government representatives, NGOs and scientists. The conference also marked the launch of Oceano Livre, a coalition of Portuguese NGOs against deep sea mining.

Oceano Livre brings together a number of groups: the Group of Spatial Planning and Environmental Studies (GEOTA); the League for Nature Protection (LPN); Quercus, the National Association for Nature Conservation; and Sciaena, the Marine Sciences and Cooperation Association. The conference took place in the spectacular setting of the Lisbon Oceanarium and was supported by Seas at Risk.

For some time, the Portuguese government has been considering an application by the Canadian company Nautilus for deep sea mining exploration and exploitation in Azorean waters, on the Portuguese extended continental shelf. Oceano Livre is the response of Portuguese NGOs, and is intended to raise public awareness of the potential implications of deep sea mining. The absence of any real debate on the issue to date points to a clear need for more critical assessment and discussion of sustainable alternatives to mining.

At the conference, several experts presented current research on the potential environmental impacts of deep sea mining, highlighting the risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and impacts from plumes, noise and light pollution. Gaps in governance and regulatory frameworks at both national and international level were outlined, and the future demand for minerals was discussed in the context of the ongoing transition to sustainable consumption and production systems. These insights framed a lively and engaged audience debate about the Portuguese/ Azorean case, indicating the depth of interest in the topic.

Oceano Livre’s position is clear: neither Portugal nor the world need deep sea mining, particularly in view of the scale and range of its environmental impacts. The movement believes that effective application of the circular economy, changes in consumer habits, and new alternative technologies will be sufficient to remove the need for deep sea mining.

This conference represented a first step towards opening a long-overdue public debate on deep sea mining. Seas At Risk has since called on the representatives of national and regional governments present at the conference to take the lead in continuing this necessary social debate. In Portugal, the Ministry assured conference attendees that decisions will be made carefully and with due regard to all possible impacts and benefits. Oceano Livre will continue to observe the process closely.

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