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Search for Minerals Increases Interest in Deep-Sea Mining

FILE - Lobster fishermen work at sunrise in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 8, 2022, off of Kennebunkport, Maine. Scientists, lawyers and government officials are debating deep sea mining at a conference this week. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
FILE - Lobster fishermen work at sunrise in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 8, 2022, off of Kennebunkport, Maine. Scientists, lawyers and government officials are debating deep sea mining at a conference this week. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Search for Minerals Increases Interest in Deep-Sea Mining
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The mining industry is pushing to explore more of the world’s deep oceans to find metals and minerals used for electric vehicles and other technologies.

But some scientists are worried that deep sea mining will damage the environment and the biological systems important to the atmosphere.

Scientists, lawyers and government officials are meeting until November 11 in Jamaica to discuss the issue. The International Seabed Authority, (ISA), an independent group created by a United Nations treaty, organized the meeting.

The ISA has given 31 exploration licenses for deep ocean waters outside of any country’s territory. While it has not given any licenses to begin mining, some experts worry it will do so soon before rules are in place.

Experts say the mining would create dirty water, noise, and light that could harm the ecosystem in the deep sea. They also note that scientists do not know a lot about the deep sea and need to learn more before making decisions about mining.

Less than one percent of the world’s deep ocean waters have been explored. Most of the current exploration activity is in a large region between Hawaii and Mexico.

Mining companies argue that deep sea mining is less costly and causes less damage than mining on land.

The International Energy Agency estimated that demand for minerals will increase six times by 2050. A report from Fitch Ratings that was released in October said demand will increase because electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies need minerals found in the sea.

Nauru, a small island northeast of Australia, is leading the push for mining. It hopes to financially gain from the mining for minerals that are used in technologies such as electric car batteries.

Need for study and rules

But officials in other countries are worried about the effects of mining and are pushing for new rules.

“We are still very concerned about the consequences,” said Elza Moreira Marcelino de Castro, Brazil’s representative at the meeting.

French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this year that he supports a ban on deep sea mining. Germany, which has two exploration contracts, announced on Wednesday that it would not sponsor such mining at this time.

New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa want a ban on the mining until more is known about its possible effects, a move supported by some scientists and legal experts.

The ocean holds more carbon than the Earth’s atmosphere, plants and soil, and scientists are finding new kinds of plant and animal life during exploration trips.

Diva Amon is a marine biologist. She said studies take months or even years to complete.

“We do not understand what lives there, how they live there, the global function that this ecosystem plays,” she said. She added that because minerals grow only one to 10 millimeters every million years, the deep sea is slow to recover from damage.

Other concerns over deep sea mining include how money would be divided and how mining companies would be supervised.

Countries who have signed the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea can sponsor private companies seeking exploration licenses. The United States is one of several countries that is not party to the convention.

Pradeep Singh is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. He said there are worries that private mining companies might look for a sponsor country based on reduced tax deals, weak environmental laws and other influences.

Michael Lodge is the secretary general of the ISA. He said at the meeting in Jamaica that the agency wants to ensure protection of the marine environment while member countries work on proposed rules.

I’m Faith Pirlo. And I'm Andrew Smith.

Dánica Coto wrote this story for the Associated Press. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

license –n. official permission to do or carry out an activity

ecosystem –n. everything that exists in and is linked to a particular environment

battery –n. a device that stores electricity and can power machines

consequences –n. (pl.) the results of an action or condition

sponsor –n. a person or group who supports and takes responsibility for another person or group

function –n. a special purpose or activity for which something exists


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