China Looks to Mine for Key Metals in International Waters

The Chinese government has applied for the rights to conduct deep-sea mining for valuable metals in the international waters of the southwestern Indian Ocean. Using remotely operated underwater vehicles, China identified a reserve of sulphide deposits near a pocket of hydrothermal vents, located more than 5,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. They hope to mine valuable metals — including copper, nickel, and cobalt, which are used in the production of high-tech products such as cellphones, laptop computers and batteries.

While the environmental risks of such mining operations are unknown, conservationists are concerned the mining could disturb ecosystems over a much wider area. “Conditions at this depth are normally very stable, and any mining damage would impact the environment for a very long time,” said Richard Harrington of the UK-based Marine Conservation Society. The permit will be reviewed by the International Seabed Authority, which was established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. A Toronto-based company is already running a similar sulphide-mining operation in the waters of Papua New Guinea.

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