by Floro Mercene
The manganese nodule deposits are of interest because they contain greater amounts of some metals than are found in today’s known economically minable deposits.
Dissolved metal compounds in the sea water precipitate over time around a nucleus of some kind, such as a fragment of a clam shell, or a shark’s tooth, and range in size from a few millimeters to tens of centimeters. Growth of these nodules is extremely slow, at a rate of millimeters per million years, and they remain on the seafloor surface, often partially buried in a thin layer of sediment.
The international Law of the Sea precisely regulates who can mine manganese nodules or massive sulphide and cobalt crusts in the future. If the resources are located within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of a country, the so called 200 nautical mile zone, this country has the sole right to mine them or to award mining licenses to foreign companies. On the other hand, all lie far outside the EEZ in the realm of the high seas, mining is centrally regulated by an agency of the United Nations, the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Various articles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea define the high seas as the common heritage of mankind. Activities on the high seas should thus serve the good of all people.
In 2019, Canadian mining firm Nautilus Minerals will send robots to excavate deposits rich in copper and gold within the jurisdiction of Papua New Guinea. Other nations are hot on their heels. The International Seabed Authority, which regulates deep-sea mining in international waters, has granted contracts to more than 25 countries to explore for minerals.