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Pulitzer Center Update February 23, 2024

Uncovering the World’s First Seabed Mining Site


This project highlights South Carolina's environmental and economic connections to the ocean.

Geologist Jason Chaytor points to the approximate location of a "lost" experimental deep-sea mining operation on the Blake Plateau. He found the vintage U.S. Geological Survey map tucked away in a drawer at his Woods Hole, Massachusetts, office. Image by Laura Bilson. United States.

Ocean reporting that reveals scientific evidence

This week the Ocean Reporting Network was excited to see the publication of grantee Clare Fieseler's project for The Post and Courier, the American South's oldest daily newspaper.

Fieseler tells the story of the world's first seabed-mining test, conducted in the 1970s off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Its location had been lost to history, until scientist Jason Chaytor managed to find it in 2016.

The special report is supported by archival footage and in-depth writing, bringing together science, mining, history, and marine biodiversity as it follows his efforts to find the expedition site.

What is clear is that the damage done more than 40 years ago is exactly as it was left. “It looked like they were there yesterday,” he said of the mining machines.

Also discovered nearby on the Blake Plateau is the world's largest cold-water reef. This is the crux of the debate about seabed mining: Do we know enough about the impacts on marine life to protect it from harm?

Chaytor's findings—and Fieseler's story—come at a key time for the seabed-mining debate. The industry is pushing to exploit the ocean floor for the critical minerals found in its nodules, crusts, and hydrothermal vents, which it says is essential for the transition to clean energy. Opponents argue that mining at sea cannot be done sustainably, without ecosystem destruction and species loss. The organization tasked with creating the rules to govern mining in international waters has been dragging its feet for many years now. Obscure clauses have been triggered in a bid to get the International Seabed Authority to move faster, and some countries have lost patience with the process and are exploring their own territorial waters.

Seabed mining has become a touchstone issue for environmental protest, with environmental NGOs raising awareness, and carmakers, including Volvo and BMW, pledging to keep seabed minerals out of their supply chains.

And this is another reason why Fieseler's story works so well. She brings an obscure international legal debate—that many people are unaware is so advanced—back to her readers, connecting it to the growing expansion of EV manufacturing in the South.

It's an important part of the puzzle as the debate continues. You can read more about Fieseler’s project in this “Behind the Story” interview with the Pulitzer Center’s Alexandra Byrne.




On January 21, 2024, Indonesian vice-presidential candidate Mahfud MD cited a documentary by 2021 Rainforest Investigations Network Fellow Bagja Hidayat highlighting deforestation in the country. This week, just one month after Mahfud’s statement, the 2021 documentary reached more than 1 million views on YouTube.

During his Fellowship, Hidayat coordinated a team of investigative reporters that uncovered the power relations and economic elites behind large-scale deforestation in Indonesia.

You can watch the video by clicking here.

Photo of the Week

The lake at the foot of the Quelccaya glacier. Phinaya, at 4,830 meters (15,850 feet) above sea level, is the highest town near the glacier. From the story “‘Without the Ice Cap, We Cannot Live’: The Andes Community Devastated by Climate Crisis.” Image by Ángela Ponce. Peru, 2023.

“Es importante visibilizar los esfuerzos desde sectores no científicos por preservar el ambiente, ya que el retroceso del nevado no solo pone en peligro, los ecosistemas y seres que dependen de este. También están en riesgo de desaparecer costumbres, tradiciones, e incluso lenguas, ya que una de las principales consecuencias del efecto invernadero es el desplazamiento forzado.”

“It is important to make visible the efforts from non-scientific sectors to preserve the environment, since the retreat of the snowfall not only endangers the ecosystems and beings that depend on it. Customs, traditions, and even languages ​​are also at risk of disappearing, since one of the main consequences of the greenhouse effect is forced displacement.”

—Ángela Ponce

This message first appeared in the February 23, 2024, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

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