As China leads the hunt for deep-sea minerals, environmental and financial concerns come to the surface – by David Dodwell (South China Morning Post – May 4, 2018)

Nasa may be scouring deep space for signs of life. Elon Musk might be looking to Mars. China’s scientists have had an eye cast skyward too – but, at the same time, the country seems keenly focused on challenges much closer to home – mineral riches in our oceans.

For decades, the quest for riches scoured from our oceans has been the stuff of fiction. Back in 1974, the CIA hoaxed the world by saying they were launching Project Azorian, a Pacific Ocean search for mineral-rich manganese nodules 4,900m deep. In fact, they were secretly looking for – and indeed found – the sunken Soviet submarine K-129.

In reality, the cost and uncertainty of deep-sea exploration has frustrated all attempts to begin plundering the assets in the oceans. Until now.

As governments, mining companies and dozens of alarmed environmental groups prepare for the world’s 7th Deep Sea Mining Summit in London later this month, Canada’s Nautilus Minerals, with lots of Chinese money and technical support, is poised to begin combing the Solwara 1 seabed site in the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea.

Last September, Japan completed commercial trials at a depth of 1,600 metres in its exclusive economic zone off Okinawa. So far, the Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority, which polices deep-sea exploration under the United Nations Law of the Sea, has issued 27 licences for exploration.

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