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Pacific News Minute: Deep-sea mining companies hope for 'modern-day gold rush'

Jamaica Deep Seabed Mining International Seabed Authority
David McFadden/AP
In this July 14, 2015 photo, delegates from across the world gather for a meeting by the International Seabed Authority, a U.N. body in Kingston, Jamaica. (AP Photo/David McFadden)

Deep-sea mining companies are hoping that international rules will soon allow for a “modern-day gold rush.” This one would take place more than 2 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone spans nearly 2 million square miles between Hawaiʻi and Mexico, an area as wide as the continental United States.

Lying on the bottom are trillions of potato-sized rare earth metals and other minerals.

Research from The Pew Charitable Trusts says these rocklike deposits contain nickel, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, and other material that could power the next generation of electric vehicles.

The Guardian reports that recent developments in underwater robotics have made large-scale mining of the metals possible.

The International Seabed Authority oversees the controversial new industry. It has granted licenses for companies to explore the area, but full-scale mining has not yet begun.

Clarion-Clipperton Zone.png
U.N. International Seabed Authority

The Pacific island nation of Nauru has given the U.N.-affiliated ISA two years to come up with regulations governing the industry.

Environmental groups are warning that mining the metals would be dangerous, and cause "irreversible harm" to little-known ecosystems.

Scientific monitoring of experimental dredging sites has shown that decades after a site is disturbed, few if any communities of organisms have recovered.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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