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05 • 03 • 2021

Victory: Washington State Passes Law to Prohibit Seabed Mining

By Gus Gates

Surfrider and our partners are celebrating the passage of a law to permanently protect Washington’s marine environment from the destructive practice of seabed mining. Following the Washington Legislature’s passage of a bill to prohibit seabed mining in Washington state waters with bipartisan support, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5145 into law on May 3rd, making Washington state the second in the country to take this ocean protection action. 

The Washington House of Representatives recently passed Senate Bill 5145 banning seabed mining by a vote of 96-2, and the Senate had unanimously passed the bill by a vote of 49-0. The legislation was originally introduced by Senators Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) on January 12 during Washington’s 2021 Legislative session. 

“Seabed mining is bad for sea life, bad for our environmental health, and bad for our future,” said Washington state Senator, Kevin Van De Wege. “This legislative movement will ensure our marine ecosystems, our fisheries and our coastal communities don’t turn into offshore strip-mines.”

While many perceive this issue to be an emerging threat, there has been interest since at least the late 1800s in mining black sands along the Washington coast from Cape Flattery to the Columbia River, as the area contains iron, titanium, and other hard minerals. Oregon passed a precautionary law banning seabed mining in its state waters in 1991. SB-5145 provides a similar proactive approach to protecting Washington’s coast from future mining efforts.

“Democrats and Republicans came together to support this proactive ocean protection legislation before the threat of destructive seabed mining arrives in our coastal waters,” said Gus Gates, Washington Policy Manager with the Surfrider Foundation. “In passing this legislation, our leaders are demonstrating they clearly value our beautiful coastline, our outdoor recreation and marine resource-based economy, and the culture and economic well-being of our coastal communities.”

Mining the nearshore seafloor along the U.S. West Coast could cause significant damage to commercial and recreational fisheries, marine wildlife, and the communities and tribal nations that depend on them, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. Also at risk are the breathtaking beaches, tide pools, and rocky shorelines that help support a multimillion-dollar tourism industry. By preventing this harmful activity before it starts, the West Coast can be a model for other regions that are hoping to avoid the possible consequences of seabed mining.

Industrial-scale prospecting for gold, platinum, titanium, phosphorus, and other minerals along the ocean floor is increasing worldwide. Seabed mineral extraction, which ranges from dredging to far more destructive techniques, including the removal of the top 12 inches of seafloor off of seamounts, could additionally affect kelp forests and other marine habitats that nurture commercially and recreationally important fish

In addition to acute damage to the seafloor, mining creates toxic sediment plumes, noise, light, and thermal pollution, and other unpredictable impacts to the mid-water ecosystem that disrupt marine communities. These jeopardize the health of other wildlife in the marine environment, such as salmon, steelhead, tuna, forage fish, and marine mammals, including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

A diverse range of coastal business interests from recreation, to commercial and recreational fishing, to hospitality and shellfish growers, all came together to support this common sense legislation and help push it across the finish line.

“For those of us who work on our oceans and coastal estuaries, the legislative prohibition on seafloor mining is welcome and much appreciated,” says Larry Thevik, President of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association. “The preservation and protection of our abundant marine resources is fundamental to the preservation and protection of our coastal fishing, recreation, and tourist economies and communities. SB 5145 continues long-standing legislative action and reaffirms legislative efforts to promote a healthy marine environment off of our coastal shores. Our ocean space is limited and the marine resources we are charged to steward and depend on are better served with this legislation and without the environmental disturbance seafloor mining would bring to our ocean economy and habitat.”

Seabed mining is on the rise in other parts of the world and could soon put commercial and recreational fisheries, marine wildlife, and coastal communities and cultures at risk. Other states around the US can take similar approaches as they did in Washington to prevent this harmful practice before it threatens the ocean ecosystem and coastal communities. Learn more about this emerging issue via the Surfrider Coastal Blog and Beachapedia page and join Surfrider today!