Mining for minerals required for mobile phones and other high-tech devices may threaten the "Casper" octopod found deep in the sea.

This photograph of a ghostlike octopod, observed at the Necker Ridge, is almost certainly an undescribed species and may not belong to any known genus. Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana


In the spring of 2016, scientists identified what is most likely a previously undiscovered species of octopod, nicknamed Casper for its colorless appearance. These octopods live on the ocean floor about 2.5 miles below the surface. They also live pretty long by octopod standards, growing, and protecting their eggs, quite slowly.

The “Casper” octopods lay their eggs on the dead stalks of sponges found down there, which happen to be connected to nodules rich in manganese and other high-tech metals used in mobile phones and other electronic equipment. These metals, which are getting increasingly difficult or expensive to find on the surface, are abundant in small batches in the ocean, and some companies have already started looking at ways to harvest those materials.

Doing so where these octopods live would have a devastating effect on them, destroying their eggs and likely killing off many of them. Because of their slow life cycle, it would take a long time for them to recover. What’s more, octopods tend to be pretty close to the top of the food chains where they live, and they eat a lot of smaller animals. Reducing their population would have an impact on the populations of many other creatures, which could have any number of unforeseen consequences. We frankly don’t know enough about these creatures or their ecosystems to know how much harm deep-sea mining could do.

“As long-lived creatures, recovery will take a long time and may not be possible if all the hard seafloor is removed,” says researcher Autun Purser of the Alfred Wegner Institute in Germany. “This would be a great loss to biodiversity in the deep sea and may also have important knock-on effects. Octopods are sizable creatures, which eat a lot of other smaller creatures, so if the octopods are removed, the other populations will change in difficult to predict ways.”