Deep-sea mineral extraction has been a hotly debated issue as it is considered to be key to accelerating the world's transition to a greener future. However, some groups have opposed it due to our lacking knowledge of the sea and mining’s potential to damage entire ecosystems. Nevertheless, despite the call for a ban on deep sea mining, a mining company will begin operations in 2024.
“People think we are debating if this (deep sea mining) should happen or not, but this is already happening,” Gerard Barron, CEO, The Metals Company, told Mining.com. Currently, The Metals Company has access to The Nori Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) polymetallic project, regarded as the largest undeveloped nickel asset in the world. The company’s nodule resources are assessed to be 4Mt measured, 341Mt indicated and 11Mt inferred of mineral resources.
The company stresses that environmentalists and NGOs have been trying to stop sea mining. However, due to the lack of a deep-sea mining legislation, it is expected to start soon.
In July 2022, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) declared that it would begin accepting sea mining proposals. The ISA was created in 1994 by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to manage sea mining in international waters and ensure the preservation of marine biodiversity. Since then, the mining code has been developed slowly. However, the process was expedited by the island of Nauru, which placed a clause forcing the ISA to finalize the mining code by July 9, 2023, or to approve sea mining in accordance with the current law.
The existence of rare minerals in the deepest part of the ocean has been known since the 1860s. The sea floor contains the same minerals found on land, as well as minerals unique to the ocean such as ferromanganese crusts, polymetallic nodules and seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits. Deep-sea reserves are estimated to be worth between US$8 trillion and US$16 trillion, as reported by Prospector. However, several countries called for a global ban on deep-sea mining activities until more research is done and better technology is developed to take care of the environment. Not all countries support this position, however. For instance, China remains the leader in deep-sea mining exploration efforts, while Nauru announced it started exploring the ocean in 2023. In addition, G7 countries said that they will allow deep-sea mining if it does not seriously damage the environment.
While Mexico does not carry out deep-sea mining yet, the country has a significant opportunity to do so. It has oceans on two sides and is located right next to the most prolific region for marine mining, the Clipperton Fracture Zone. Mexico’s mineral reserves have been estimated to contain 21 billion t of polymetallic nodules, which contain about 6 billion t of manganese, 226 million t of copper, 94 t of cobalt and 270 million t of nickel.