Ecological risk assessment for deep-sea mining

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© 2019 The Authors Ecological risk assessment for deep-sea mining is challenging, given the data-poor state of knowledge of deep-sea ecosystem structure, process, and vulnerability. Polling and a scale-intensity-consequence approach (SICA) were used in an expert elicitation survey to rank risk sources and perceived vulnerabilities of habitats associated with seabed nodule, sulfide, and crust mineral resources. Experts identified benthic habitats associated with seabed minerals as most vulnerable to habitat removal with a high degree of certainty. Resource-associated benthic and pelagic habitats were also perceived to be at risk from plumes generated during mining activities, although there was not always consensus regarding vulnerabilities to specific risk sources from different types of plumes. Even for risk sources where habitat vulnerability measures were low, high uncertainties suggest that these risks may not yet be dismissed. Survey outcomes also underscore the need for risk assessment to progress from expert opinion with low certainty to data-rich and ecosystem-relevant scientific research assessments to yield much higher certainty. This would allow for design and deployment of effective precautionary and mitigation efforts in advance of commercial exploitation, and adaptive management strategies would allow for regulatory and guideline modifications in response to new knowledge and greater certainty.






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Washburn, TW, PJ Turner, JM Durden, DOB Jones, P Weaver and CL Van Dover (2019). Ecological risk assessment for deep-sea mining. Ocean and Coastal Management, 176. pp. 24–39. 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.04.014 Retrieved from

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Van Dover

Cindy Van Dover

Harvey W. Smith Distinguished Professor of Biological Oceanography in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences

Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover is a deep-sea biologist with an interest in ocean exploration and the ecology of chemosynthetic ecosystems. She began her work in this field in 1982, joining the first biological expedition to hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise. After earning a Master's degree in ecology from UCLA in 1985, she continued her graduate education in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Biological Oceanography. There she joined numerous expeditions and published on diverse topics such as reproductive strategies and recruitment of vent invertebrates, vent food webs, and taxonomic descriptions of new species. In 1989, she described a novel photoreceptor in a vent invertebrate, which in turn led to discovery and characterization of a geothermal source of light at vents and investigations of its biological significance. On receiving her Ph.D. in 1989, Van Dover joined the group that operates the deep-diving submersible ALVIN. She qualified as pilot in 1990 and was pilot-in-command of 48 dives. Her work with ALVIN and other deep-submergence assets has taken her to nearly all of the known vent fields in the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as to deep-water seamounts, seeps, and other significant seafloor features. Her current research focuses primarily on the study of biodiversity, biogeography, and connectivity of invertebrates from chemosynthetic ecosystems and invertebrate functional anatomy.  in addition, she is active in developing pre-industrialization policy and management strategies for deep-sea resources. She has published more than 80 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is an active participant and Chief Scientist in NSF-and NOAA-sponsored field programs to deep-sea environments. 
In addition to research, Van Dover has authored a popular book for the lay audience about the deep sea and her experiences as an ALVIN pilot (Deep-Ocean Journeys; Addison-Wesley, 1997, a.k.a. The Octopus's Garden). She is also the author of the first textbook on hydrothermal vents (The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents; Princeton University Press, 2000). Van Dover is curator of Beyond the Edge of the Sea, a traveling exhibition of illustrations of deep-sea organisms and environments by artist Karen Jacobsen ( and is currently project lead for Science and Art at the Moment of Discovery, hosting 6 artists (water color, acrylic, experimental media, batik) on a deep-sea research expedition in June 2012.  Her work has been featured in Science News, Discover Magazine, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. Dr. Van Dover was named Virginia Outstanding Scientist in 2006 and is a Fulbright Scholar (France 2004), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Distinguished Lecturer for the NSF Ridge 2000 Program. She is the inaugural recipient of the Mines Medal for exceptional leadership and innovation, a George Hammell Cook Distinguished Alumni Award (Cook College, Rutgers University), a Career Awardee from the National Science Foundation, and a William & Mary Alumni Fellowship Awardee for Outstanding Teaching. She is currently the Harvey W Smith Distinguished Professor of Biological Oceanography at Duke University, Chair of the Division of Marine Science and Conservation, and Director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, N.C.

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