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Companies back moratorium on deep sea mining

Science desk || shiningbd

Published: 20:31, 5 April 2021  
Companies back moratorium on deep sea mining

The Apollo II is lowered into the water off the coast of Malaga

A long-running dispute over plans to start mining the ocean floor has suddenly flared up. For years it was only environmental groups that objected to the idea of digging up metals from the deep sea.

But now BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung are lending their weight to calls for a moratorium on the proposals.

The move has been criticised by companies behind the deep sea mining plans, who say the practice is more sustainable in the ocean than on land.

The concept, first envisaged in the 1960s, is to extract billions of potato-sized rocks called nodules from the abyssal plains of the oceans several miles deep.

Rich in valuable minerals, these nodules have long been prized as the source of a new kind of gold rush that could supply the global economy for centuries.

Interest in them has intensified because many contain cobalt and other metals needed for the countless batteries that will power the electric vehicles of a zero-carbon economy.

Dozens of ventures, most of them government-backed, have been exploring vast areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans to assess their viability for mining.

And several companies have developed prototypes of "nodule collectors", giant robotic machines that would drive over the seabed, gathering the rocks and piping them up to ships at the surface.

We witnessed one of these devices - called Apollo II - being tested in the waters off southern Spain in 2019.