Elements such as lanthanum are in high demand for use in hybrid car batteries
Scientists have made an impassioned plea for humanity to pause and think before making a headlong rush to exploit the deep sea.
The researchers said the oceans' lowest reaches had untold riches that could benefit mankind enormously, but not if the harvesting were done destructively.
The scientists called for a "new stewardship" of the deep sea.
This would require effective ecosystem management and sustainable methods of exploitation.
The researchers said the fishing sector had already initiated some very damaging practices, such as the widely criticised use of heavy-rolling, sea-floor nets, but that there was still time for other sectors to take more sensitive approaches.
This includes the imminent development and spread of industrial-scale deep-sea mining.
The ocean floor is being targeted as a source for a range of metals and minerals.
Part of this is driven by the insatiable appetite for modern technology devices like cell phones and hybrid cars.
The battery in a Toyota Prius hybrid car, for example, requires more than 10kg of lanthanum.
Large tracts of sea bed have now been licensed to permit the prospecting of manganese nodules, cobalt crusts, massive sulphides to produce copper and zinc, and even phosphates to make fertilisers.
Some of these licences are certain to turn into full-mining permissions this decade.
"The deep ocean is a vast repository of resources, and looking over the long term - the next hundreds of years, say - we almost surely are going in there to mine," said Prof Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in San Diego, California.
"Even if some deposits are not currently economically viable, they probably will be in 50 years from now.
"What we're trying to say is that we need to do this in a responsible way, and if we are going to extract these resources, we need to do it with the least amount of harm to ecosystems, and now is the time to start thinking about how we do that," she told BBC News.
The researchers made their call for a new stewardship mentality at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Mining of the deep ocean has been talked about since at least the 1970s, but the advance in underwater robotics and rising commodity prices have brought the notion much closer to reality.
The International Seabed Authority has so far issued 19 prospecting licences, covering a combined area about the size of Mexico.
These licences are held by governments and big contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, which operates in the aerospace, defence and civil sectors, and more requests are pending.
Initial surveys have indicated that some of the metal reserves could be very lucrative, producing materials such as copper that would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the London Metal Exchange. But before the extraction can begin, thorough environmental assessments had to be done, said Prof Cindy Lee Van Dover, the director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory, in Beaufort, North Carolina.
"The most effective time to do environmental management is before the mining begins. That mining has not yet commenced, and if we want to get really progressive environmental regulations, we need to do it now," she argued.
"That environmental management needs to be informed by science, and that science needs support from international and national agencies to make it happen. It's not cheap to work in the deep sea."
The European Union (EU) with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) have
signed a financing agreement for Adapting to Climate Change and Sustainable
Energy (ACSE) programme worth FJ$90.8m.
The ACSE programme will help the 15 Pacific ACP countries (Cook Islands,
East-Timor, Fiji, Kiribati, , Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue,
Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon
Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) to address three main challenges common to
all of them: adapting to climate change; reducing their reliance on fossil
fuels; and capacity building.
The total project cost is €37.26 (FJ$95.37) million with the European Union
contributing €35.5 (FJ$90.86) million through the European Development Fund
(EDF). For the implementation of this programme, the European Union will be
working in partnership with the German International Cooperation Agency
(Deutsche Gesellschaft furInternationale Zusammenarbeit - GIZ), the New Zealand
Government, the Asian Development Bank and the Secretariat of the Pacific
"I'm thrilled to be here signing this financing agreement. Climate change
adaptation and sustainable energy are in the core of EU's support towards the
Pacific countries. This project not only illustrates this but it's yet another
example of the ever closer cooperation between the European Union and our
partners in the Pacific,” says Mr DirkMeganck, European Commission's Director
for Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Gulf and the Pacific whilst signing on behalf
of the European Union during the regional programming meeting for the 11th EDF,
held at PIFS in Suva, Fiji this week.
"The Forum Secretariat and its partner regional agencies warmly welcome
the EU’s commitment to climate change and sustainable energy,” says Tuiloma
Neroni Slade, The Secretary-General of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.
“In almost every Forum communiqué in recent years, Leaders have emphasised the
importance of securing access to energy, their commitment to renewable energy,
the promotion of efficiency measures and the need for significant progress in
diversification by developing domestic renewable energy to reduce their
reliance on imported fuels. Similarly, Forum Leaders have given affirmation of
the dangers of climate change – to the livelihoods, security and well-being of
the peoples of the Pacific.”
The programme aims to strengthen the Pacific island countries' capacity to
adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and to enhance their energy
security at national, provincial and local/community level. The programmeseeks
to deliver the following key achievements:
* Create and/or strengthen national technical expertise on climate change
adaptation and sustainable energy;
* Improved cost-effective and efficient energy systems to reduce fossil fuels
* Improvements in communities’ adaptive capacity to cope with climate change
Another aim of the ACSE programme is to enhance sustainable livelihoods through
the support of government institutional efforts and empowering communities to
increase their self-reliance and their ability to cope with the effects of
climate change through appropriate practices in agriculture and coastal
fishery, by disseminating improved plant varieties which are resistant to salt
water, by securing their daily water supply and by improving their access to
energy, among other initiatives.
Climate change is already disproportionally affecting the Pacific island
states, although islanders have done little to contribute to the cause -
producing less than 0.03% of current global greenhouse gas emissions. They are
among the first to be exposed, often disproportionally, and with limited means
to adequately respond.
At the same time, despite efforts to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels,
many small Pacific states remain almost 100% dependent on these imports for
power generation and transportation. Sustainable energy and climate change
adaptation are therefore top priorities for the Pacific ACP governments as
expressed in regionally endorsed frameworks and in national policies and