US expands its borders: the rush to mine the bottom of the ocean

Capitalists see no limits on their quest to gobble up the planet’s resources. They are willing to destroy the marine ecosystem for more profits, but a movement is growing to stop them.

A mining machine to be used by Nautilus Minerals for digging up the sea floor near Papua, New Guinea. PHOTO: Nautilus Minerals
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The U.S. has just quietly grown by the size of two Californias, by claiming to own the extended continental shelf, almost 400,000 square miles of ocean bed and subsoil. A little-known U.N. commission on the limits of the continental shelf okays such claims. Then another shadowy U.N. panel, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), supposedly formed to protect the ocean floor, can allow or ban mining or other actions there.

ISA members are appointed by dozens of governments and have approved 100% of mining exploration permits so far, charging a fee of $500,000 each. Many members of the panel are employed by mining companies and their contractors. This is like a new “gold rush” with the robber barons leading the way.

After facing determined resistance to mining for rare minerals on dry land, corporations are now looking to the seabed, where they won’t face protesters and roadblocks. They claim that rare minerals like lithium, cobalt, and magnesium are needed for green energy uses and for national security. Owning the seabed and the materials it can supply would allow the U.S. to outflank China in the manufacturing of solar panels, batteries for electrical vehicles, and computer chips, which are crucial for military uses and artificial intelligence.

Imperialist bottom-feeders

This is just a new version of Manifest Destiny, which holds that the U.S. is destined to expand its territory, especially if a profit can be made. Since the U.S. already “owns” large chunks of the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea, it will now consolidate control over polar sea lanes as ice melts and make it even easier to access the potentially scarce resources the ocean can provide.

Scraping up the crust and soil of the ocean floor with untested mammoth machines and pumping the ore miles to the surface is a far-reaching environmental disaster, already shown by Japan’s explorations, which destroyed sea creatures in the area. Scientists know far more about space than the ocean — the most unexplored place on the planet. But they do know the sea holds extensive food chains, thousands of undiscovered creatures, plants and potential cures for diseases. Disturbing these depths will destroy millions of organisms, create plumes of silt and debris and noises that disorient and kill whales and other marine life.

Commercial mining companies are poised to dig in. For years countries including Norway, Japan, and Russia have been “exploring” potential mining sites. Thirty-one countries are already conducting experiments in a huge area between Hawaii and Mexico — the half-million square mile Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

Indigenous activists lead the way

Seventy-two indigenous groups from 51 countries, including Fiji, Cook Island, Tahiti and the United States, signed on to a petition in March of 2023 calling on the ISA to issue an immediate and total ban. There’s growing opposition by France, Spain, Germany, Chile, the U.K., New Zealand and others that calls for a ban or temporary pause in licensing.

Seven hundred scientists from 44 countries urged a suspension in this headlong “race to the bottom.” Even corporations like Volvo, BMW, and Samsung have pledged to avoid using minerals from ocean floor mining, and Maersk and Lockheed have sold their stakes in deep-sea mining subsidiaries. This proposed industry with untested technology proved too risky for them.

As more countries claim to own larger chunks of seabed, this insatiable capitalist expansion must be stopped. Many “clean energy” solutions such as individual electric cars are not the best answer. Instead, a socialist planned economy with more thorough recycling, extensive mass transit and slashed military spending will use far less of the earth’s resources far more efficiently.

Sign the online petition here  to stop deep-sea mining.


90% of the species that researchers collect from the deep are entirely new to science. Source: PEW Charitable Trust

A hydromedusa. PHOTO: NOAA

There may be more types of bioluminescent creatures in the deep sea than there are species on land. Source: NOAA

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