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'New Gold Rush' for Riches Takes Aim at Deep Ocean

Intergovernmental body gives OK to seven new exploratory permits to hunt for deep sea minerals.

Environmental groups have warned that deep sea mining could pose severe ecological threats. (Photo:  Steve Jurvetson)

Environmental groups have warned that deep sea mining could pose severe ecological threats. (Photo:  Steve Jurvetson)

A new gold rush for mineral riches lurking in the deep sea continues, as a United Nations organization has given the green light to seven new applications for exploratory seabed mining work permits.

The International Seabed Authority, a Kingston, Jamaica-based body established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and which controls activities relating to the seabed’s mineral resources, made the announcement of the new permits Monday.

Firms from the UK, the Cook Islands and Singapore will be exploring for manganese, the government of India and a state German institute have applied to explore for polymetallic sulphides, while Brazilian and Russian entities are on the hunt for cobalt.

BBC News reports:

This means that the total area of seabed now licensed in this new gold rush has reached an immense 1.2 million square kilometers under 26 different permits for minerals prospecting.

Operations for the mining are set to begin by 2016, but the prospect of the resource grab in the little-explored deep sea has sparked ecological warnings.

A report issued last year from environmental campaigning group Greenpeace International found that the prospective "large-scale industrial exploitation," deep sea mining, "could have serious impacts on the ocean environment and the future livelihoods and well-being of coastal communities."

Ocean conservation organization Oceana also warned that it would "leave a permanent footprint on the marine environment."

A panel of scientists also sounded alarm earlier this year,  stating that without "deep-ocean stewardship," seabed mining could post serious environmental threats, and that many questions still remain about the exploitation.  Yet the answer to one key question may be clear.

"Will deep-sea mining ensure a healthy and productive marine environment in the long term? The undeniable answer is no,” Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe, stated last month.

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