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Deep-Sea Mining Looms on Horizon
World Economy

Deep-Sea Mining Looms on Horizon

The deep oceans span more than half the globe and their frigid depths have long been known to contain vast, untapped deposits of prized minerals. These treasures of the abyss, however, have always been out of reach to miners.
But now, the era of deep seabed mining appears to be dawning fueled by technological advances in robotics and dwindling land-based deposits. Rising demand for copper, cobalt, gold and the rare-earth elements vital in manufacturing smartphones and other high-tech products is causing a prospecting rush to the dark seafloor thousands of meters beneath the waves, AP reported.
With authorities at the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority issuing exploration contracts, alarmed conservationists are warning that the deep ocean’s fragile biodiversity must be protected and not nearly enough is known about the risks of extracting minerals from seabeds.
“The pace of activity has increased dramatically over the last five years,” said Michael Lodge, deputy secretary-general of the obscure UN body in Kingston that acts as a global steward of the deep seafloor and is tasked with regulating this new mining frontier. “We’re seeing the private sector invest in a big way.”
 Exploration Contracts
The UN agency, known by its initials ISA, presides over seabed outside the exclusive territorial waters of individual countries. So far, it has issued 27 exploration contracts, the large majority of them since 2011. The 15-year contracts allow for mineral prospecting on over one million square kilometers of seabed in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Governments and private companies have been moving so rapidly to stake claims and assess deposits that insiders forecast that commercial deep-sea mining could start within the next five years using robotic collectors equipped with cameras and sonar sensors along with pipe systems that can siphon crushed minerals to ships.
During a gathering this month in Jamaica of representatives from nearly 170 member states, ISA has started drafting a framework to regulate commercial exploitation of seafloor metals and minerals. The session ended Friday.
A group of international scientists, in a July 9 article in the journal Science, urged ISA to temporarily halt authorization of new mining contracts until networks of “marine protected areas” are established around areas targeted for mining.
But despite the warnings, in recent days ISA authorized its latest exploration contract, a 72,745 square kilometer permit in the Pacific to China Minmetals Corp., sponsored by Beijing. China now has the most permits from the UN body with four.

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