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Undersea mining: moving forward at last? Too fast?

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The mining industry is looking more actively at the vast opportunities available if they can tap into the three quarters of the earth’s surface that is under the oceans.  A new generation of undersea technology, developed in part by the oil and gas industry, is opening this door that was previously mostly a dream.  Undersea crawlers, remotely operated vehicles with robotic arms, and subsea processing units are all key to the new mineral rush that may be starting.  The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute magazine Oceanus ran a good piece on the history and current plans in this realm; much of the focus has been on undersea vents, where biologists are concerned about impacts on rare species (extinct or dormant vents may have the minerals with far less active communities of life).  Meanwhile, the International Maritime Minerals Society has released a new draft of its Code for Environmental Management of Marine Mining, and is accepting comments through April 15, 2010 (email to Verlaan AT hawaii DOT edu).  The draft code has some fairly progressive provisions, including leaving corridors to facilitate biological re-establishment after mining, and leaving nearby similar areas untouched to serve as research/environmental controls; the code makes no mention of assessment of the noise footprint of mining, which is bound to be locally significant.

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