The scaly-foot snail has been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species because of threats from deep-sea mining. The snail is found at only three hydrothermal vents in the Indian ocean that are popular mining locations for valuable metals and minerals.
Lisa Levin, a biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told Nature that adding the animal to the endangered list is an effort to alert policymakers to the potential dangers of deep-sea mining.
Two of the three vents where the snails reside are under mining exploration licenses and a single exploratory mining operation could destroy their habitat by damaging the vent or burying the snails in sediment.
The vents are popular sites for extracting minerals and metals because when the hot, mineral-loaded water from a vent mixes with cold seawater, it deposits materials like manganese and copper on the ocean floor.
Full-scale mining won’t be allowed in international waters until the International Seabed Authority, a United Nations agency that regulates sea-bed mining, finalizes a code of conduct, which it hopes to do by 2020.
There is still a debate over whether environmental guidelines will be mandatory or just recommended within the code of conduct, so Levin says now is a good time to raise awareness about the hydrothermal-vent ecosystems and their endangered species.