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Eldorado or asylum, will the seabed be the ore deposits of tomorrow?

Eldorado or asylum, will the seabed be the ore deposits of tomorrow?

You have to imagine a black, quiet world, where scientists find their organism in pieces and pieces. Which according to the consecrated formula is no less known than the surface of the moon. This world of deep seas already attracts large investments in Canada and Belgium in particular to prepare for the exploitation of existing aspirations. This issue will be central, Wednesday 9 February, during the opening of the One Ocean Summit in Brest. Twenty Heads of State and Government are gathered for the event.

>> Deep seabed: France invests in mining exploration, sensitive material

In these deep seas, three types of ore are mapped: polymetallic nodules, like large black potatoes, hydrothermal sulphides, large chimneys sometimes active at 1,500 m deep on the oceanic ridge, and a cobalt-rich crust, which forms a crust a few tens of centimeters thick.

pto see them at 4,000 m depth, Ifremer, lFrench Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea launches sensors to detect the presence of methane. “Our water systems can be built from different depths, explains geographer Ewan Pelletier. So if we find a concentration of methane that is much higher than what is normally found in seawater, it means that something is down. Here are some tips for launching a remote robot into the deep sea. ” If these minerals are interesting it is why they contain metals that are essential for energy transfer: nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese, which are used for electric car batteries. According to Ifremerthe polymetallic nodules in the northeast Pacific, off Mexico and Hawaii, would allow the production of 340 million tons of nickel.

“We get both base metals such as copper, nickel or zinc, as well as precious metals like gold and silver, and finally so-called rare high-tech metals such as selenium, indium or germanium.”

Ewan Pelletier, geologist

at franceinfo

However, Ewan Pelletier recognizes this: “At the moment, we have not yet assessed these amounts, we are in an initial approach.”

NGOs and some scientists are concerned about the consequences of mining, as it is still difficult to assess the potential damage to the way the ocean stores carbon in the depths, and to the organisms that lives there. Ifremer has been studying deep-sea organisms for many years and may influence the exploitation of their habitat, according to biologist Pierre-Marie Sarradin, deep-sea specialist for Ifremer: “We know that there are organisms, that they are small and numerous, and that some of them are very rare. We know that some of them would be in danger of disappearing if they were cultivated. We also believe that a return to an ecosystem can be equal but comparable, would be very long in the conditional.

“A few years ago, we were just trying to ask ourselves the question of how the ocean works; now, in addition to how it works, we need to think about what happens if We will never pursue it. “

Pierre-Marie Sarradin, biologist

at franceinfo

To protect this deep sea in international zones, the UN has created an organization: the International Seabed Authority. At present, it has only issued exploration permits, which makes it possible to better understand the environment, but also to prepare the land for potential exploitation. 31 licenses were issued, primarily in the Clarion-Clipperton area of ​​polymetallic nodule fields off Mexico and Hawaii over 9 million square kilometers.

Two companies already have machines capable of dredging funds. Belgium Global Sea Mineral Resources conducted its first tests in April 2021. The Canadian Metals Company has received three exploration permits and is preparing to conduct full-scale tests in the Clarion Clipperton zone. He called on offshore installations giant Allseas to build an 80-ton machine to try to absorb the minerals from a depth of 4,200m.

Offshore installation giant Allseas has built an 80 tonne machine to try to pull ore up from 4,200m deep.  (ALL SCREENSHOT)

For The Metals Company’s managing director Gerard Barron, future exploitation will not affect the seabed. “We have already requested the first production vessel from our partner Allseas, which will go to the Clarion-Clipperton zone in the coming months.which he explains. So we will be able to operate every step of the process, how the collector, the extraction system and the production vessel behave in the area. When this phase is complete, the ship will return to port and we will make some modifications to make production ready for 2024. “

The Metals Company currently only holds an exploration license, but hopes to force the International Seabed Authority to seize an exploration license soon enough. The International Authority is also working on developing a mining code. For the countries concerned, it would be a way of overseeing extraction by taking into account environmental vulnerabilities, for example, the definition of protected areas, a way of addressing the nature of the Far West. to avoid. But for the Coalition for the Conservation of the Deep Sea, a coalition of anti – exploitation NGOs – including Greenpeace – the adoption of the regulations would mark the beginning … of the exploitation.

François Chartier, who is in charge of the ocean campaign on behalf of Greenpeace, fears that such licenses will be granted within a year: “On the one hand, the negotiation of the establishment of a mining code is intensifying, with some states and mining companies wanting to succeed. In this way, France is one of them.”

“Today, the question of being able to find ore at 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, up to 6,000 meters is no longer a science fiction, something that could become a reality.”

Francois Chartier, of Greenpeace

at franceinfo

These NGOs are seeking a moratorium on seabed mining. A tender was also accepted in September at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conference for biodiversity in Marseille. At that time there was a French abstention. France has precisely developed a strategy with two exploration licenses, more or less idle, managed by Ifremer, to exploit these mineral resources and intends to assess its impact and feasibility.

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