The commercial use of metals such as copper, lead, and zinc has markedly increased in recent years, resulting in increased interest in deep-sea mining of seafloor hydrothermal sulfide deposits. However, the full extent of the impact of deep-sea mining at hydrothermal field deposits on the environment remains unclear. In addition to impacting the deep sea, the leaching of heavy metals from extracted sulfide mineral may also affect the upper ocean zones as the sulfide rock is retrieved from the seafloor. Here, we used a delayed fluorescence-based bioassay using the marine cyanobacterium Cyanobium sp. NIES-981 to evaluate the toxicity of three sulfide core samples obtained from three drill holes at the Izena Hole, middle Okinawa Trough, East China Sea. Leaches from two of the cores contained high concentrations of zinc and lead, and they markedly inhibited delayed fluorescence in Cyanobium sp. NIES-981 compared with control. By examining the toxicity of artificial mixed-metal solutions with metal compositions similar to those of the leaches, we confirmed that this inhibition was a result of high zinc and lead concentrations into the leaches. In addition, we conclude that this delayed fluorescence-based bioassay is a viable method for use by deep-sea mining operations because it is quicker and requires less laboratory space and equipment than the standard assay.
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