Deep-sea mining is the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200 m which covers about 65% of the Earth’s surface.
There is growing interest in the mineral deposits of the deep sea. This is largely due to depleting terrestrial deposits for metals such as copper, nickel, aluminium, manganese, zinc, lithium and cobalt, coupled with rising demand for these metals to produce high-tech applications such as smartphones and green technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric storage batteries.
So far, the focus has been on exploring the deep sea – assessing the size and extent of mineral deposits. By May 2018, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – which regulates activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction – had issued 29 contracts for the exploration of deep-sea mineral deposits. More than 1.5 million km2 of international seabed – roughly the size of Mongolia – have been set aside for mineral exploration in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
But exploration may soon give way to exploitation. Commercial mining in national waters of Papua New Guinea is predicted to begin by 2020. Mining in international waters is expected to commence in 2025.