India’s Deep Ocean Mission may threaten unique species in the ocean - Seeker's Thoughts

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India’s Deep Ocean Mission may threaten unique species in the ocean

‘Deep Ocean Mission’ is an ambitious project of India for exploring the ocean minerals in the deep sea. One of the main aims of the mission is to explore and extract polymetallic nodules.

What are Polymetallic Nodules?

Polymetallic Nodules are small rounded accretions composed of minerals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide. These nodules are also called as Magaznese Nodules. 

These are found on the sea bottom, and in the Indian Ocean at the depth of 6,000m. 

The size of these modules can vary from few millimeters to centimeters. 
The need for Polymetallic Nodules

These metals can be extracted and used in electronic devices, smartphones, batteries and even for solar panels.

The Concern

The digging in the ocean would certainly impact on the species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these deep remote locations can be home to unique species that have adapted themselves to conditions such as poor oxygen and sunlight, high pressure and extremely low temperatures.

Such mining expeditions can make them go extinct even before they are known to science. The deep sea’s biodiversity and ecology remain poorly understood, making it difficult to assess the environmental impact and frame adequate guidelines.

Environmentalists are also worried about the sediment plumes that will be generated as the suspended particles can rise to the surface harming the filter feeders in the upper ocean layers. 

Additional concerns have been raised about the noise and light pollution from the mining vehicles and oil spills from the operating vessels.

Who did give the authority to India for digging up the oceans?

International Seabed Authority (ISA), an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining.

India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor ‘ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.

 In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA and after complete resource analysis of the seabed 50% was surrendered and the country retained an area of 75,000 sq km.

Where will the team mine?

According to a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the estimated polymetallic nodule resource potential in this area is 380 million tonnes (MT), containing 4.7 MT of nickel, 4.29 MT of copper, 0.55 MT of cobalt and 92.59 MT of manganese. Further studies have helped narrow the mining area to 18,000 sq km which will be the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.

Which are the other countries that are in the race to mine the deep sea?
Apart from the CIOB, polymetallic nodules have been identified from the central Pacific Ocean. It is known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

According to the ISA’s website, it has entered into 15-year contracts for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the deep seabed with 29 contractors.

Later it was extended for five more years till 2022.

China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia and also some small islands such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati have joined the race for deep sea mining.

Most of the countries have tested their technologies in shallow waters and are yet to start deep-sea extraction.

When will India start mining?

India’s mining site is at about a depth of 5,500 metres, where there is a high pressure and extremely low temperature. India will start mining soon as announced. 

Is deep-sea mining economically viable?

The latest estimate from the ISA says it will be commercially viable only if about three million tonnes are mined per year. More studies are being carried out to understand how the technology can be scaled up and used efficiently.

However, ignoring the environment always cost more and brings the irreversible effect on nature.
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Therefore, it is advisable that the government sustains the nature, while exploring for the nodule.

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