With deep sea mining, Pacific islands are caught between money and the environment

While most of the Pacific Islands have escaped the worst of COVID-19, the cornerstone of their economy, tourism, has taken a big hit. By June 2020, visitor arrivals to Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu had ceased altogether, with borders closed and even internal displacement. limit. In Fiji, where tourism generated around 40% of GDP before the pandemic, the 19% contracted saving in 2020.

An economical alternative can be found just offshore. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is a 4.5 million square kilometer deep water trench in the central Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Mexico. On its seabed are rocks the size of a potato called polymetallic nodules which contain nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese. These were formed over the centuries by the accumulation of iron and manganese around debris such as seashells or shark teeth.

It is estimated that there are approximately 21 billion tonnes manganese nodules in this single trench, and the demand for these metals is likely to skyrocket as the world accelerates the development of batteries for electric vehicles and renewable electricity grids.

The demand for mining metals has increased.
Credit: EPA / Jens Buettner