Thursday, April 9, 2009

Deep Sea Mining of Hydrothermal Vents

One might describe the ocean as a "precious jewel", or perhaps a "treasure box of life" but less metaphorically, our ocean is actually home to extractable deposits of silver and gold (copper, zinc, and lead too). So... what shall we do with this wealth?

The Canadian (and BC-based) company, Nautilus Minerals has emerged as a major player in the exploration of deep-sea mining possibilities, most notably through its activities related to mining the waters off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Nautilus is also interested in mining areas offshore from Vancouver.

Last week, Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution hosted a Deep-Sea Mining Workshop to promote interdisciplinary and international collaboration on deep sea mining issues. While there was only modest media coverage of this 100-person, invite-only event; deep-sea mining is becoming a hotly-contested issue for many people who are concerned about the health of the oceans. Rick Macpherson, a scientist based in San Francisco, offers some interesting reflections on the workshop.

Sea floor mining on a large scale has never been attempted before, so we can't fully understand the environmental implications of such a practice. What we do know is that deep sea systems are vulnerable and are often slow to recover from damage. One of my specific concerns is that there are many different kinds of marine life that exist near the hydrothermal vents and if we are not careful, deep sea mining could alter or harm the ecosystem upon which these creatures depend.

What are your thoughts on deep-sea mining? How would you feel if deep-sea mining occurred on the Pacific coast of Canada?

1 comment:

  1. It makes me uncomfortable to imagine tampering with the deep sea--a zone that we haven't explored and do not understand. It is one thing to study the deep seas. It is quite another to harvest natural resources without any idea what we are doing or what effect we will have.