This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

December 25, 2019

Mining the Sea and its Serious Consequences

Onboard the M.V, World Odyssey, where I taught this Fall, the required course for student voyagers was called "Global Studies." Part of the class' curriculum was an oceanography component taught by Professor Carl Berman, Jr., who happens to be my husband. One of the topics Berman covered was "Deep Sea Mining." He raised my consciousness about the consequences of Deep Sea Mining.

Most people do not think about the incredible terrain under our seas. There are soaring mountains, meandering rivers, bubbling hot springs, and the deepest canyons on the planet (technically called "trenches"). Therefore, it is not surprising that we have discovered that this same topography as we have on land features some of the richest mineral and crystal deposits anywhere. However, mining those riches is not without consequences.

How this Mining Works
With crane mining, the bucket is dragged along the bottom to collect the sediment, then brought to the surface to be refined and the valuable materials separated out. Then, the remaining waste is simply dumped back into the ocean. There is also another method using a robot to more selectively take that which is wanted and leaving the rest.

The Companies that are Already Profiting
Near the West Coast of Africa, the De Beers Group, the Diamond people, drags machinery along the seabed to find diamonds, using a fleet of specialized ships. In 2018, their ships removed a whopping 1.4 million carats from the waters off the coasts of Namibia. Working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea, Nautilus Minerals, is smashing a field of underwater hot springs to mine their desired precious metals. Even some countries have joined this abuse of the ocean beds; Japan and South Korea have begun national projects to capitalize on their own offshore deposits.

Regulating the Seabed
However, the most prized areas, the international waters, have yet to be mined; covering more than half of the global seafloor, the international waters are believed to contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined. Enter the International Seabed Authority (ISA). At ISA headquarters in Jamaica, for one week a year, the 168 delegates of this almost unknown organization meet to address these critical issues. Their jobs are not to prevent undersea mining, but rather to minimize the damage by choosing the locations where extraction will be permitted. They also issue licenses to mining companies and draft the technical and environmental standards for an underwater mining code.

The Dire Consequences
Dragging the seafloor may seem benign, but it is actually far from it. Besides decimating the flora and fauna, like coral, kelp, crustaceans (e.g., crabs and shrimp), and bivalves (e.g., oysters and mussels) that call these realms home, their actions are totally disrupting the bottom of the food chain. These disruptions will have devastating consequences to the fish populations---already at risk from overfishing. Plus, according to Berman and others, there is also a ripple effect on climate, another global challenge humans face.

The Future Does Not Look Pretty
Good people, like the folks at the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative and selected academics are sounding the alarm and working to confront these threats to this deep-water environment. Humans are about to strip-mine arguably the most important and enormous habitat on this "big blue marble." Once that ecosystem has been destroyed, it is not coming back.

Special thanks to The Atlantic Monthly, whose JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE will include the full text of an extensive feature on this important topic. The headline will be "20,000 Feet Under the Sea."


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