Need Legal Framework before Mining Ocean’s Floor

by September 3, 2019 0 comments


With India set to mine the ocean’s floor for rich mineral deposits, a strong legal framework must be in place

Having traversed space 35 years ago and left our footprints on Mars and moon in the last decade, India will now fathom the depths of its oceans and seas to retrieve the rich living and non-living (water, mineral and energy) resources. After Mangalyaan and Chandrayaan, we are poised to tap the vast marine resources through Mission Samudrayaan — some three years from now — when India celebrates its 75th year of Independence. Plans are already afoot for mining manganese nodules at a depth of 6,000 metres in the sea, 30 times more than where a naval submarine can go. The  National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), which is undertaking Mission Samudrayaan, has already started placing orders for sub-systems and is studying the vehicle’s design. The plan is to send a submersible with humans 6 km under water in the central Indian Ocean basin. This will place us in the elite group of countries like the US, Japan, Germany, Russia and China, which have been exploring the seabeds in the mid-Atlantic, Pacific and the Indian oceans.

The point-scoring will be on many counts. First, as a technological stride. Second, ownership of oceanic resources and third, strong-arming our presence in the Indian Ocean Rim at a time when nations are having to counter Chinese deep sea explorations, some of which are about controlling territorial waters. Once we are able to harness minerals like manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and iron hydroxide, we can use them to manufacture electronics, especially mobile phone batteries. Benefits will include ensuring a low carbon future, too, as these minerals can help in creating a green economy. But deep explorations come with their own associated risks to the environment. Such endeavours usually disturb various exotic and little known ecosystems. The remote depths, devoid of light and oxygen, are home to some unique species, organisms and creatures which have evolved over millions of years. Uncontrolled mining expeditions put them at risk of extinction even before they are discovered by scientists. If the lawlessness that marks the land mining sector is anything to go by, a strictly-implementable international as well as domestic regulatory framework for deep sea probes is a must. As it is, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the body which oversees exploration in international waters, is yet to devise a mining code for countries to follow. It is here that India must score a point by putting in place a strict domestic charter that can ensure responsible and sustainable exploration.

Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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