- Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Rosemary Rayfuse
Chapter 10: Protection and preservation of the marine environment from seabed mining activities on the continental shelf: perspectives from the Pacific Islands region
Over the last half-century metal grades in terrestrial mineral deposits have been decreasing steadily. Due to the progressive increase in metal prices, triggered by growing international demand, which has been accompanied by improved efficiency in mining technologies, extraction of massive low-grade deposits is now becoming economical. These factors have also turned the attention of investors and developers to alternative sources of metals, including the deep sea, as marine deposits often have significantly higher grades. The existence of minerals on the seabed has been known for many years and there have been numerous research cruises in the Pacific region aimed at understanding and documenting these potentially rich deposits. In fact, more mineral deposits have been discovered in the Pacific Ocean than in any other ocean, and it appears that some of the world’s most promising and abundant marine mineral resources are to be found in the Pacific. Three main classes of deep sea minerals have been identified as of economic interest in the Pacific region, namely: sea-floor massive sulphides, manganese nodules, and ferromanganese cobalt-rich crusts. These seabed mineral deposits are composed predominantly of metals such as copper, gold, silver, zinc, lead, cobalt and platinum. Bearing in mind that deep ocean mineral deposits will not replace land-based mining for many countries, recovering such deposits could offer an additional source of raw materials to meet the increasing demand. It is nevertheless worth mentioning that in comparison to land-based mining, seabed mining is relatively new and as a result, raises some concerns with regards to its potential environmental and social impacts.
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