As the future of seafloor mining is debated this week, here are five things you need to know about the risks and rewards of extracting precious metals and minerals from the ocean.
The bottom of the world’s ocean contains vast supplies of precious metals and other resources, including gold, diamonds, and cobalt. Now, as the first deep-sea mining project ramps up, nations are trying to hammer out guidelines to ensure this new “gold rush” doesn’t wreck the oceans.
People have dreamed of harvesting riches from the seafloor for decades. A project off Papua New Guinea could begin as early as 2018, serving as a test case for an industry that could be highly lucrative. If it proves successful, it could kick off a boom of deep-sea mining around the world.
In response, representatives of many nations, the mining industry, and environmental groups are meeting this week in Kingston, Jamaica, at an annual session of the International Seabed Authority. The purpose is to agree on safeguards and operating procedures for deep-sea mining, especially in the high seas. Under international jurisdiction, the high seas represent roughly two-thirds of the world’s oceans.
“Nations should act now to make sure our ocean is protected as this new industry develops,” says Conn Nugent, who is the director of the deep-sea mining project with the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The International Seabed Authority was established in 1994 through the United Nations, based on the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The authority is charged with protecting the ocean from impacts of mining and ensuring landlocked countries can share some of the benefits. A draft of new guidelines is expected in the next few weeks, with ratification likely to take a few years.
Until then, here’s what you need to know:
What Kinds of Things Would Deep-Sea Miners Look For?
The diamond conglomerate De Beers has been mining diamonds from shallow waters off southwest Africa since the 1960s, so harvesting diamonds from deeper water is a possibility. Precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper are also attractive targets.
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