A “gold rush” is expected to begin for precious metals such as cobalt and nickel found at the bottom of the seas around the world.
Mining companies are eager to start exploration after a ban on deep-sea mining expired earlier in July. International talks are currently taking place among the 168 member states of the International Seabed Authority.
Companies can now apply for a commercial license even though there is no code in place to regulate activities.
Firms are eager to capitalize on the deep sea mining “gold rush”
Mining companies have responded to environmental concerns by arguing that cobalt, nickel, and other metals are crucial for the attainment of net zero. Moreover, they assert that deep sea mining would cause less damage than sourcing precious metals on land.
The Metals Company, a Canadian mining company, informed Sky News that it is planning to submit paperwork to commence extracting minerals from the deep abyss of the Pacific Ocean.
The company’s CEO, Gerard Barron, commented “It’s right for people to be cautious. If you look at the land-based mining industry it hasn’t had a great record, but this is a very different resource.
“If we apply the simple logic that we should carry out extractive industries in parts of the planet where there is the least life, not the most life, then this would be the perfect place to collect metals for batteries.”
The minerals are mostly to be found in rocky lumps that are scattered across the seabed around 2.5 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
If mining operations are allowed to go ahead, large machines will trawl the ocean floor to pick up polymetallic nodules. The risk is that in the process, these mining operations will cause tremendous amounts of damage on the ocean bed, creating sediment plumes capable of suffocating coral reefs and other organisms hundreds of miles from the mining site.
Environmental groups warn that this will diminish the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink, thus accelerating global warming. There is also research to suggest that the polymetallic nodules could contain radioactive substances, posing a threat to human health.
Earlier this year, scientists from the Natural History Museum dispatched robotic submersibles down to the seabed where they discovered an immense variety of life. In some instances, they found creatures that were physically attached to the mineral nodules.
The scientists have estimated that there could be 8,000 previously undescribed species living on the ocean floor. “At least 80% of the things that we bring up don’t have names,” Dr. Adrian Glover, who was part of the expedition, told Sky News.
“We know roughly what they are, for example, is it a kind of a sea cucumber, mollusk, crustacean, or shrimp or something like that? But they’re a new species to science,” he added.