The UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) recently carried out a study and has announced that companies could apply for undersea mining licenses as soon as 2016. This has caused conservationists to express their concern over the potential detrimental effects that mining will have on marine life.
The ISA recognises this, however with the increased demand for raw materials it is inevitable that sacrifices will be made. There are many resources on the ocean floor which are of interest to us, including gold and copper as well as rare-earth minerals.
This increase in demand is mainly due to the increased demand in the developing countries such as China and India. Many of the rare earth elements (the name is misleading as they are not overly rare) are found in particularly high concentrations on that ocean floor.
These rare earth elements are heavily used in modern technology such as in phones, televisions and many touch screen displays.
There has currently been no commercial mining of the sea floor at depths greater than 200m, yet the proposed mining go over 500m deep. This will require far more advanced mining equipment than is currently used, however, various private companies insist that the technology is sufficiently developed and available.
A real point of concern is that mining may cause the extinction of unique species. Hydrothermal vents are home to a vast number of species, many of which have not yet been categorised.
Then again, if it does go ahead, which seems likely, deep sea mining will become a major industry, potentially employing hundreds of thousands of people, particularly beneficial in today’s economic climate.
As well as this, a new way of extracting natural resources will result in a price decrease and cheaper consumer electronics.
Clearly a balance needs to be struck between obtaining the resources we need and the damage that it will cause to the ecosystems. But given industry’s dependence on these minerals, not mining the ocean floor is becoming less and less viable.
Currently, 17 licenses have been issued to allow companies to prospect for minerals. It seems likely that this venture will go through and deep sea mining will become a reality.