So the world is moving away from using oil, and electric vehicles are the future... right? The solution might not be so clean-cut, depending on where the materials for those car batteries are coming from. Many are extremely rare minerals that are being mined - often unnecessarily - from remote and environmentally fragile parts of the world. We usually think of towering machinery digging deep into the earth in forest-laden areas of the planet. But a new documentary, 'Deep Rising', aims to highlight another area of concern being debated, due to how little we know about it - the depths of the ocean.
Polymetallic nodules are concentrated clusters rich with nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese that occur on the sea floor surface. Just sitting there, they're prime targets for companies eager to fill a gap in the mineral supply chain. There are just two problems - firstly, the environmental concerns. Creatures and organisms live on these nodules, and due to our lack of knowledge, it's impossible to say how removing them would disrupt the ecosystem. Secondly, the area of the oceans that the nodules generally occur into are outside of any area of country designation, and are considered under international law to be common heritage of humankind - meaning they should be protected for future generations from exploitation by individual nation states or corporations.
Within 'Deep Rising', we learn there's a portion of the UN, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is responsible for making all decisions related to the oceans - including what happens to deep sea mining of items such as the nodules. They've opened the door for exploration in anticipation of extraction of the nodules for financial gain... rather surprising given the common heritage of humankind law. This leads Gerard Barron (who's been described as Australia's Elon Musk), then CEO of Deepgreen Resources (now trading as The Metals Company) to focus veraciously on acquiring a licence to gain access to the nodules, and finding backers and partners. He says he's "on a mission to help wean humanity off fossil fuels and transition to a circular resource economy". In reality, he wants to make a profit from gathering minerals from an untapped source.
We also meet Dr Sandor Mulsow, a Chilean professor of marine geology. Up until 2019, he was the head of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources at the ISA. He was concerned about the direction the body was moving in regards to regulating deep sea mining. He feels that we should be utilising more abundant minerals like hydrogen or lithium, but no one is willing to invest in them because there's no money to be made out of selling them due to their prevalence.
This is obviously an exceedingly complex issue. I've only been able to cover the surface layer of the documentary's issues in the above synopsis. It goes to great lengths to outlay the environmental concerns related to deep sea mining, which are extremely valid. What I would have like to have seen is that relayed through more than one expert, despite how experienced Dr Mulsow is. Having a variety of scientific voices - while perhaps muddying the message - would have offered undeniable evidence of what's occurring at our ocean's depths.
Adding to the complexity of the story is filmmaker Matthieu Rytz's decision to mix in a nature documentary style to the film. While this is successful in parts, particularly its beginning, it's disruptive in others. Granted, it's a quality of footage that would rival BBC's Planet Earth, with stunning deep sea shots filled with creatures rarely seen on screen. That, however, is paired with narration from Jason Mamoa ('Aquaman') - who also serves as an executive producer - and while his is certainly a name that will draw some viewers into watching this documentary, his gravelly tone does not live up to the serene narration of the likes of David Attenborough.
'Deep Rising', aims to highlight another area of concern being debated, due to how little we know about it - the depths of the ocean.
The main issue with interspersing nature documentary elements throughout the film means the linear flow of the rest of the story is very segmented, resulting in very vignetted viewing. You find yourself getting sick of the film dipping to black to jump between the two tangents being told, and can feel the separation of the two growing the further the film moves along.
What is monumental is the inclusion of Papua New Guinea as what would have been the first location for deep sea mining. The intimate view of the community and their opposition to the project is truly exceptional, and gives a personal approach rather than a global one to the problem being faced. The project did fall through, but there are ongoing bids to explore the Pacific Islands region for deep sea mining, and the amount of money potentially being thrown at governments who so desperately need it makes it a growing concern.
We live in troubled times. We have no choice but to face the issue of climate change. But it's also important to be informed about the direction in which we're moving. Just because it's a step forward doesn't mean it's the best step forward. That's what 'Deep Rising' highlights - not that we're heading in the wrong direction, but there are better paths to be on. That we have resources sitting there ready to reuse. That there are minerals plentifully available that would cost us next to nothing and do very little long-term damage to our planet. While structurally it may not be the perfect documentary, 'Deep Rising' will inform you and make you want to have an onus over the future of our planet.