Deep Sea Industry

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New technologies have opened up opportunities for exploiting deep sea resources including deep seabed mineral extraction, bioprospecting and carbon dioxide storage. Oil and gas extraction and fishing have been operating in the deep sea for some time. Mining for seabed minerals and collecting marine organisms for pharmaceutical and industrial applications (bio-prospecting) are two of the emerging economic opportunities in the deep sea.

The seabed is also being increasingly explored for metals such as copper, zinc and gold following decrease in availability of high grade minerals on land.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • With new technologies available today, unprecedented access has opened up to deep waters, revealing a wealth of new habitats and organisms, and also presenting opportunities for exploiting new resources.
  • Despite the increase in knowledge in recent years, currently less than 10% of the deep seafloor has been explored.

All about deep sea industry

The deep sea is generally defined as waters below 200 metres. Though oil and gas extraction has been undertaken in this area for quite some time a number of new industries are moving into this area. Among the most significant advances in marine engineering and submersible technology is the development of remotely operated vehicles.

Economic opportunities

Two major examples of emerging economic opportunities in the deep sea that are very are:

  • mining for seabed minerals
  • collecting marine organisms for pharmaceutical and industrial applications (bioprospecting).

With diminishing supply of minerals on land survey of sea beds are intensified for metals such as copper, zinc and gold.

Bioprospecting

Bioprospecting is the harvesting of living resources, including plants, animals and microbes, for commercial gain. Increasingly, the high biodiversity found in the oceans is creating opportunities for the exploitation of living resources in areas including cold-water coral reefs, seamounts and hydrothermal vents.

  • For pharmaceutical applications

In shallow waters soft-bodied invertebrates like sponges and sea slugs are prospected as they contain biochemical defenses that may be useful for technological or pharmaceutical applications.

  • For industrial biocatalysts

There are diverse populations of microbes in the deep sea which are used as a source for industrial biocatalysts (to speed up certain processes), biopharmaceuticals and antimicrobials. One group of deep-sea microbes (Actinobacteria) produces a compound that inhibits the hospital superbug, MRSA, and a protein that is used as an industrial catalyst.

  • Anti-cancer agent

About 90 percent of the Actinobacteria collected from deep-sea sediments are newly discovered species. This suggests there could be many more avenues for industrial and pharmaceutical applications, including compounds that may be able to act as an anti-cancer agent.

Storing carbon dioxide

Storing or injecting CO2 on the seabed is likely to have a far greater impact on the deep sea environment. One method involves storing frozen CO2 in the surface sediments of the deep ocean (>1000m), where the low temperature and high pressure allows the formation of frozen ‘hydrates’ of CO2. Frozen CO2 has a greater storage density than its gaseous or liquid equivalents and is less likely to leak.

CopperBytes

  • The deep sea is important for biodiversity and rare and newly discovered species.
  • Industries moving into the deep sea include mineral extraction, bioprospecting and possibly carbon storage.
  • The environmental impacts of these activities are not fully known and further scientific knowledge of the deep sea is required.
  • Legislation is complex or lacking for many activities in international waters.
  • Improved management and legislation can balance conservation of the environment with economic development.

References

  • EU's fisheries policy caught between devil and deep sea
  • NEW INDUSTRIES IN THE DEEP SEA