Submarine Networks EMEA 2024: Collaborating towards a greener future 


The final panel on day one of Submarine Networks EMEA 2024 was titled Collaborating towards a greener future.

Moderated by John Wrottesley, Liaison Officer at the European Subsea Cables Association (ESCA) the panel was comprised of:

– Michael Clare, ICPC Marine Environmental Advisor & Senior Researcher at the National Oceanography Centre 

– Horst Brockmueller, Chief Executive Officer of Oceanic Environmental Cables  

– Merete Caubet, VP Bulk Fiber Networks at Bulk Infrastructure 

Both historically and in our current economy, we’ve been taking materials from the earth, making products with them and then discarding them. This process is linear and unsustainable. So, there’s a need to create a circular economy, a system where materials do not become waste and nature is regenerated. This is achieved through recycling, refurbishment and reusing. 

Since the first ever telecoms cable creation in the 1850s, around 3.5 million kilometres of cable has been laid under the sea, and presently, 1.6 million kilometres is currently in use. This means that around 1.9 million kilometres of out of service, but still on the sea floor. It would be ideal to remove and recycle the disused cable to be able to recycle it. Around 83% of carbon footprint of cable in its lifetime is done in the manufacturing. When they recover previously laid cable, they can recover around 63% of it. 

But the more new cables that are laid over old ones, the more difficult they will eventually be to remove.  

The subsea cable industry has a relatively minor environmental impact on the ocean. But nevertheless, there is a still a biodiversity crisis in our oceans which the industry does contribute to. Some forecasts predict that 40% of species are facing extinction by the end of the century. Part of this is to do with an unsustainable use of the sea floor. 

When we think about sustainability, there are some impacts that we cannot quantify, such as: what happens to the seabed in the long term if you disturb it by laying cable there? The industry must begin to think about how we value different aspects of the environment, even if we can’t quantify them currently. 

Something that needs to be developed, is to try to build an evidence base to help us understand more about processes, so the industry can make more evidence-based decisions. For example, is it necessary to recover the cable in the ground if doing so will cause extreme damage to the seabed and its inhabitants? For this, it is essential to have data from recovered cable systems and how the seabed reacts after a cable has bene recovered. These impacts are presumable much smaller than the installation impacts, but with the absence of any data, precautionary approaches are taken where the industry simply says, “we don’t know yet”. 

Can there be win-win situations both for corporations and nature? It’s a huge potential for the industry, there’s a chance here to create a full circle economy. The ability to reuse areas of sea floor that have already been disturbed, rather than disturb new areas, or adding sensors to disused cables for seismic activity sensing are all examples of these possibilities.  

The session concludes by emphasising that a cross sectoral approach is vital; it is not just subsea that are using the sea floor, industries like offshore wind farms do too. Harmonising those voices, and sharing data between industries will allow for a solution that will be essential for success. 

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