The battle over our planet’s deep-sea resources focuses primarily on the trillions of nodules of manganese, nickel and cobalt that litter the ocean floor. These metals are critical to the manufacture of electric cars, wind turbines, smart phones, gaming consoles, PC’s and other devices that are now the reality of the 21st century. As a result, mining companies are now jostling to dredge them up in vast quantities using robot rovers – attached by pipelines to surface ships – that would trundle over the ocean floor, sucking up nodules and pumping them to their mother craft. But operations like these would devastate our already stressed oceans, destroy their delicate ecosystems and send plumes of sediments, laced with toxic metals, spiralling upwards to poison marine food-chains, say marine biologists. For their part, mining companies have defended their plans by pointing out that drilling for mineral reserves on land is even more damaging to the planet’s stressed ecosystems. If we focus all our efforts to dig up cobalt, nickel and manganese there, we will degrade the environment ever further. Better to turn to the ocean depths instead, it is argued. Surely recycling old electronics must take priority and legislation created to force this to happen.

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