‘Gold rush’ to the bottom of the ocean threatens rare life forms

Black smoke emerging from a hydro-thermal vent located on the mid-Atlantic ridge at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean (Source: Wikipedia)

Hydro-thermal vents, or ‘black smokers’ such as the one pictured here on the right are akin to small volcanoes, located at the bottom of our deep oceans.

These vents are home to undiscovered new animal species that survive without light and under great pressure.

The vents are also home to valuable metals, including gold, silver, copper and zinc.

Mining companies long knew of a ‘pot of gold’ at the bottom of the ocean at these vents, but they didn’t have the technology that would allow them to retrieve them.

That’s changing and new technology has allowed for the first mining operation at a deep-sea hydro-thermal vent to begin off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

In the next decade, it is likely that mining companies will have the technological capability to mine for metals at all hydro-thermal vents, even those that might be located at the bottom of a 3,000 metre column of water.

In these circumstances, it is crucial that a code of practice be put in place to guide companies that will seek to mine for metals at the bottom of the ocean, according to Dr Patrick Collins, marine scientist based at NUI Galway.

A workshop at NUIG will be held next week to try and put some international guidelines in place, and there will be contributions from scientists in many countries, as well as the mining company working at the Papua New Guinea vent.

LISTEN: Interview with Dr Patrick Collins

Broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM on 05-04-2012


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