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Outgunned Pacific Island nations vow to fight deep-sea mining

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Outgunned Pacific Island nations vow to fight deep-sea mining

An uphill campaign against the deep-sea mining of detached, fist-sized boulders rich in rare earth metals has been started by a small group of postage stamp-sized countries in the South Pacific.

Manganese, cobalt, copper, and nickel are now used to make batteries for electric vehicles, thus companies willing to scrape the ocean floor 5,000 to 6,000 metres below sea level stand to make billions from this venture.

Nevertheless, the extraction procedure would deface what might be the most pure environment on the globe, and it might take millennia, if not longer, for nature to recover the damage.

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The aforementioned polymetallic nodules, which are deep-sea gems, develop over millions of years around a kernel of organic material like a shark tooth or a whale ear bone.

Former US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Chief Scientist Sylvia Earle stated in Lisbon that “these are living rocks, not just dead stones.”

I consider them to be marvels.

They are viewed as miraculous by an emerging deep-sea mining sector as well, but for different reasons.

The Metals Company, which has formed exploratory partnerships with three South Pacific nations — Nauru, Kiribati, and Tonga — in the mineral-rich Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone, notes that “high grades of four metals in a single rock means that four times less ore needs to be processed to obtain the same amount of metal.”

According to the business, nodules also have low levels of heavy metals, which results in less harmful waste than land-based extraction.

Nowhere in the world has commercial mining begun, but in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted exploratory licences to roughly 20 research institutions or businesses.

Surangel Whipps Jr., president of Palau, launched the anti-mining campaign alongside Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of Fiji, during the just finished UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon.

The call has received support from the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Tuvalu, as well as more than 100 legislators from 30 different countries, largely from green parties.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an umbrella organisation of 1,400 research institutions, environmental NGOs, and indigenous communities, comfortably approved a similar proposal in September.

The scientist, Ms. Earle, stated that it is widely recognised that mining has an impact on the ecology wherever it occurs.

“At least on the land, we can keep an eye on things, identify and solve issues, and lessen harm. Who is observing six thousand metres below the surface?”

However, in Lisbon, there was little direct backing from other nations for a temporary moratorium on ocean bottom mining outside of sovereign territorial waters (exclusive economic zones, or EEZs) on the high seas.

Stepping up, Chile demanded a 15-year break to allow for more research.

The United States and other industrialised countries took a less clear-cut attitude, advocating for a scientific analysis of the effects of mining on the environment while remaining open to further mining.

In an interview with AFP, US climate envoy John Kerry stated, “We haven’t taken an official position on it.

But we haven’t allowed any because of our strong reservations about conducting proper research into the effects of any deep-sea mining.

To the astonishment of many in Lisbon, French President Emmanuel Macron seemed to support a halt to deep-sea mining on the seas, despite the fact that France possesses mining exploration licences from ISA, the international organisation in charge of exploitation of the ocean floor.

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