Deep Sea Mining Could Destroy Undiscovered Species: Ocean Panel

Deep Sea Mining should not begin before a full assessment of likely environmental impacts can be made, a report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) has said today.The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a U.N. body headquartered in Jamaica, has drawn up regulations on exploration, but has yet to establish the rules for exploitation needed for mining to go ahead.

  • The report authored by six academics said deep seabed mining was a “sustainability conundrum”.
  • Sea floor nodules contain battery metals needed to fuel the world’s transition to clean energy, but trawling the sea floor for them is likely to disrupt ecosystems about which there has been scant research, as they are very difficult to reach.
  • “If mining was to go ahead with the current state of knowledge, species and functions could be lost before they are known and understood,” the authors wrote.
  • The ISA is set to discuss regulation that could allow deep seabed mining in its annual assembly, delayed from July to October this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The report said international research should be conducted to fill gaps in knowledge before any seabed mining is allowed, and protected zones should be established across all ocean regions under the ISA’s jurisdiction.

Deep-sea Mining

  • Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200 m.
  • Depleting terrestrial deposits and rising demand for metals are stimulating interest in the deep sea, with commercial mining imminent.
  • The scraping of the sea floor and pollution from mining processes can wipe out entire species – many yet to be discovered.
  • Environmental impact assessments, effective regulation and mitigation strategies are needed to limit the impacts of deep-sea mining.
  • Comprehensive baseline studies are needed to improve our understanding of the deep sea.
  • Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200 m which covers about 65% of the Earth’s surface.

There is growing interest in the mineral deposits of the deep sea. This is largely due to depleting terrestrial deposits for metals such as copper, nickel, aluminium, manganese, zinc, lithium and cobalt, coupled with rising demand for these metals to produce high-tech applications such as smartphones and green technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric storage batteries.

Source: IUCN

India to Launch Rs 200 Crore Deep Sea Mining Research Project

  • India’s ambition to send men to the deep sea in a submersible vehicle is likely to be a reality in 2021-22 with the ‘Samudrayaan’ project.
  • The project proposes to send a submersible vehicle with three persons to a depth of about 6000 metres to carry out deep underwater studies, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).
  • The ‘Samudrayaan’ project undertaken by the NIOT, Chennai, is in line with the ISRO’s ambitious ‘Gaganyaan’ mission of sending an astronaut to space by 2022.
  • The success of the ‘Samudrayaan’ will help India to join the league of developed nations in exploration of minerals from oceans.
  • The ‘Samudrayaan’ is a part of the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ pilot project for deep ocean mining for rare minerals.
  • India has been allocated a site of 75,000 sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin by the International Sea Bed Authority for exploration of polymetallic nodules from seabed.
  • The estimated resource of polymetallic nodules is about 380 million tonnes, containing 4.7 million tonnes of nickel, 4.29 million tonnes of copper and 0.55 million tonnes of cobalt and 92.59 million tonnes of manganese.

Mining at Deep Sea

The vast repository of minerals, including the precious cobalt, zinc, manganese and rare earth materials that are needed for smart phones, laptops and hybrid cars, are present in three forms of ore—polymetallic manganese nodules that remain strewn across the ocean floor; cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts that cover the seamounts; and massive polymetallic sulphide deposits around hydrothermal vents (see map).

  • These vents are cracks in volcanic areas of the ocean floor through which seeps iron- and sulphur-rich magma.
  • As these minerals meet cold bottom water, they precipitate, creating high-grade deposits.
  • Typically, an ore from seabed deposit is seven times enriched with minerals than that mined from land. This beguiles governments who are fast running out of reserves on land.

Source: Down To Earth

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