Monday, September 17, 2007

Seafloor Mining Impacts

A controversial project in Massachusetts is the Winthrop Beach Nourishment project. This project proposes to use an offshore mining site in Mass. Bay for sand and gravel nourishment of a beach north of Boston.

There is an overview of the project available as part of a report written in 1999 for Mass CZM by Applied Coastal Research and Engineering. The report is titled ASSESSING POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF OFFSHORE SAND AND GRAVEL MINING. (Caveat: this is a just a draft. I'm searching for the final report.)

This report is a thorough overview of the concepts and principles behind environmental impacts of mining the seafloor. As a case study, it utilizes the Winthrop project and summarizes the work conducted in 1972 by the New England Offshore Mining Environmental Study, a joint study sponsored by Massachusetts and NOAA. This study should still be valid to accurately locate sand and gravel resources, and with the recent mapping conducted in Mass waters, it should be straightforward to assess if this is true. However, the Applied Research report lacks specificity concerning potential impacts of mining in Massachusetts waters (nowhere in the report does it mention cod or lobster, for example).

It also fails to provide an inventory of potential sources of data to assess potential impacts in Massachusetts. The biological, physical, and chemical information conducted in the 70's can only be considered as a sort of baseline.

Since this report was written in 1999, several new data sources have been produced that could help examine potential impacts, and perhaps even rank the habitat quality of various potential mining sites. Quite a bit of work is being done on Mass Bay circulation at U. Mass Dartmouth's SMAST campus (link), and results of long-term monitoring associated with the Boston sewer outfall project have been published (link). In particular, the USGS just released a study examining sediment dynamics in Mass Bay (link). And to look at the bigger biological picture, in-state sources of data, such as MarineFisheries' resource assessment database, could be utilized.

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