Murky waters: Deep-sea miners say they offer a clean, ethical way to harvest precious metals for a low-carbon future. Environmentalists aren’t convinced. – by Janet Davison (CBC News – August 5, 2018)

They don’t look like much at first, the black, potato-shaped blobs that lie scattered on the seabed, deep beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. But as is so often the case, looks can be deceiving.

These nodules, and the metals that lie within them, are at the heart of a new and potentially lucrative mining frontier.

Metals like cobalt, copper, nickel and manganese have been mined on land for years, but going deep into the ocean to find them is becoming an increasingly tantalizing prospect. Companies like DeepGreen Metals and Nautilus Minerals — both with Canadian ties — have invested millions in preparation to raise the minerals from the seabed.

The metals in question are found in three sources: those potato-sized nodules; seafloor massive sulphide (SMS) deposits around hydrothermal vents; and cobalt-rich crusts near underwater mountains.

That there are metals lurking deep in the sea has been known for more than a century. They were even at the heart of a secret CIA deception in the 1970s, in which the agency tried to retrieve a Soviet submarine northwest of Hawaii, under the pretense of a mission fronted by billionaire Howard Hughes to mine manganese nodules. (It didn’t work out that well.)

But the push to mine the ocean floor has picked up significant pace in recent years, particularly as demand for the minerals is projected to increase, thanks to their role in the manufacture of high-tech devices like electric car batteries, wind turbines or smartphones.

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