By B.N. Frank
Metals required to operate common digital, electronic, and wireless devices are often referred to as “Conflict Minerals.” This is because there are known environmental and humanitarian costs associated with mining for them – at least on land.
Those who want to mine for metals on the sea floor refer to it as “harvesting.” Unfortunately, they also want to send gargantuan robots down there to do this. Many environmentalists warn that this is a bad idea. Ya think?
With supplies of some critical metals running low, the race to develop underwater crawlers, like this one led by a Dutch group, is in high gear. But some scientists fear that deep sea mining will wreck the seafloor, a world not fully understood. This rare, albino octopus, nicknamed Casper, a species only discovered three years ago.
Dr. Craig Smith: When we go out and collect a sample on the seafloor, we collect hundreds of new species.
Bill Whitaker: Things that you’ve never seen before?
Dr. Craig Smith: Sure, oh yeah, yeah.
Craig Smith is an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii. He told us he was surprised at how much life could survive three miles deep. His expeditions to the CCZ have turned up fantastical creatures like this squidworm, or a fluorescent sea cucumber dubbed a “gummy squirrel.” There are other deep sea originals too: a foot-long shrimp, a ping pong tree sponge, and a galloping sea urchin.
Bill Whitaker: Mining companies say that the CCZ is only about 1% of the ocean. That the ocean is so vast that– it could absorb the activity in that–
Dr. Craig Smith: Right…[…]
Dr. Craig Smith: –a little bit like saying the Amazon Rainforest is only 8% of the– the global land area so we can wipe it out and it doesn’t matter.
Bill Whitaker: Won’t deep sea mining actually be less invasive, have less of an impact than mining on land?
Dr. Craig Smith: I would say no. Mining is mining. I think it’s similar to strip mining on land.