Is Mining the Sea a Good Idea? Japan to Search the Ocean Floor for Rare Metals


Image: Wikipedia, CC

The Oceans are Already Suffering Enough

Japan has to import a lot of rare metals that are used by its high-tech industry. To secure its supply lines, the government is thinking of pushing for underwater mining within the country's territorial waters. Is it a good idea? Well, if you thought mining was expensive, complex, and destructive on land, just wait until you see mining on the sea floor. It's probably technically possible to do it right, but chances are, like a lot of mining on land, it will be done in the fastest and cheaper way, leaving environmental destruction behind.
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Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's cabinet is expected to approve as early as June the national strategy on securing undersea resources, the Kyodo News agency reported, citing a copy of the government document. [...]

Last year the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology announced plans to send robotic submarines to study areas near seabed volcanos, where so-called hydrothermal vents belch out minerals.

Experts believe exploiting those remote and hard-to-reach deposits will become feasible despite the huge technical challenges and expense, as certain minerals become more scarce worldwide.

Under the new strategy, resource-poor Japan eyes exploring the seabed within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area which extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) offshore or to the half-way points to neighbouring countries.

The areas to be explored cover 340,000 square kilometres (136,000 square miles) of the East China Sea and the Pacific, Kyodo said. (source)

If You Do It, Do It Right
We already have enough environmental problems with mining on land, do we really want to start mining the bottom of the sea too? We know so little the Earth's oceans, how they work and how the web of life that they host is interconnected.

When it comes to complex and badly understood systems like that, unforeseen consequences are almost assured. Mining the sea floor might be a good idea, but not at any cost. I hope that Japan will consider the environmental repercussions of its plans.

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