Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Seabed mining: the next big business - 29 exploratory licences issued by ISA up to 2018

Published:Tuesday | September 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Michael Lodge

Michael Lodge, secretary general of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) - created in 1982 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with headquarters in Kingston - has cited opportunities for small island states like Jamaica to benefit from seabed mining. He said that 29 exploratory licences have been issued by the ISA up to now, which shows that there is private- and public-sector interest in accessing supplies of metals in a more environmentally sustainable way to meet increasing global demand.

"Through partnerships and access to research, which already exists, there are many possibilities for Jamaica," he said.

The secretary general of the International Seabed Authority was speaking on Monday, September 17, at a meeting of the Rotary Club of St Andrew North held at the Altamont Court Hotel, Kingston.

According to Lodge, following explorations by those already licensed and when mining begins, the annual global revenues of the activity could be several billions of US dollars per year.

Among the countries that have participated in obtaining contracts from the International Seabed Authority for exploration of the seabed is Nauru, in the South Pacific, which has a population of only 8,000.

"The global seabed represents approximately 50 per cent of planet Earth and contains significantly more mineral reserves than are now accessible on land," Lodge told the Rotarians and guests.

The International Seabed Authority official noted that technological advances have led to increased demand for particular metals used in the manufacture of products such as telephones, computers, and electric vehicles. Given the level of demand, cobalt, for example, which currently sells at US$60,000 per metric ton, due to an impending supply gap, is readily available from under the seas and oceans.

According to Lodge, in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean alone there are 20 times more potential reserves of copper, cobalt, nickel, and manganese than on land, and this area has been the focus of exploration work over several decades. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone spans 4.5 million square kilometres (1.7 million square miles) between Hawaii and Mexico, an abyssal plain as wide as the continental United States and punctuated by seamounts.

However, he pointed out that there were several challenges to taking full advantage of the mining opportunities, including the fact that mining the oceans is still new business, together with technological needs, a very high cost of extraction and processing, extreme depth, and remoteness of mining locations.