Deep-Sea Mining Adds to Fears of Marine Pollution
CONCERNS ABOUT large-scale marine pollution, fuelled by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, are set to be heightened by a new development in exploitation of the oceans: deep-sea mining.
The Chinese government has just lodged the first application to mine for minerals under the seabed in international waters, in this case on a ridge in the Indian Ocean 1,700 metres (more than 5,000ft) below the surface.
The Chinese are hoping to recover valuable metals such as copper, nickel and cobalt - used in mobile phones, laptops and batteries - as well as gold and silver, in an area of currently inactive "hydrothermal vents", underwater geysers driven by volcanic activity.
Some of the vents, known as "black smokers", are black chimney- like structures which shelter their own ecosystems of little-known creatures, while emitting a cloud of hot, black material containing high levels of sulphur-bearing minerals, or sulphides.
Having explored the area using remotely operated underwater vehicles, the Chinese want to mine the sulphide deposits of a region of seabed in the south-west Indian Ocean for the rich mineral ores they contain. They have already applied to do so to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the Jamaica-based body set up under the 1982 UN Convention on The Law of the Sea to deal with the liabilities relating to seabed exploitation and the environmental damage it may cause.
The application, which will be heard at a meeting next April, is the first to be made for permission to mine in international waters, but it is likely to be followed by many more, especially if the Chinese succeed. A major seabed sulphide-mining project is already under way in the waters of Papua New Guinea, run by the Toronto- based company Nautilus Minerals.
The environmental worries thrown up by the prospect of deep-sea mining are considerable, not least after the Gulf oil spill, which has become an intractable problem owing to the depth of the seabed where the well is sited. It has become clear that once something goes wrong at such a depth - in this case 1,500 metres, or nearly 5,000ft - putting it right is immeasurably more difficult than at the surface.
Although no one knows exactly what damage a deep-sea mine would do to the marine ecosystem, experts have no doubt that removing a considerable part of the sea floor would cause a major disturbance.
Not only that, but plumes of sediment - which may well be toxic - could have an impact over a much wider area, especially for filter- feeding marine organisms, which are common on the seabed. Such plumes might also block out light, hindering the development …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Deep-Sea Mining Adds to Fears of Marine Pollution. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 2, 2010. Page number: 22. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.