6 Jul 2011

Exciting seabed mining potential raises concerns

6:55 pm on 6 July 2011

A University of Hawaii Oceanography professor is raising concerns over the environmental impact of any future mining of a new area that's found to be rich in precious elements in the Pacific Ocean floor.

A survey out this week and published by Yasuhiro Kato, a geosystem engineer at the University of Tokyo, claims that one square kilometre of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption.

These rare earth minerals are sought after for electronic equipment, and the biggest finds were between Hawaii and Kiribati, and around French Polynesia.

Craig Smith says the survey is extraordinary and exciting, but fears accessing them will be expensive and potentially harmful to sea-floor ecology.

"The deep sea bed, it's a vast area that their talking about, and has species that range over large distances potentially, but it's also a very environmentally fragile area, with high diversity and very delicate habitat structure. So it will be important for, if this comes to the exploitation phase, to really be carefully managed."

University of Hawaii Oceanography Professor Craig Smith.

The new ocean survey has been published in the British journal, Nature Geoscience.