Deep seabed: France invests in mineral exploration, a sensitive subject

Emmanuel Macron unveiled on Tuesday, October 12, an investment plan of 30 billion euros over five years to develop industrial competitiveness and future technologies in France. Around two billion euros will be invested in the exploration of the seabed but also of space. This exploration is “an extraordinary lever for understanding living things, accessing certain rare metals, and understanding the functioning of new innovation ecosystems”, underlined the Head of State. But this exploration could lead to an exploitation of these sea beds, fear NGOs.

In the seabed, we indeed find the minerals of tomorrow, which enter into the composition of the batteries of electric cars or communication devices. It is for example cobalt, manganese or nickel. These minerals are more than 4,000 meters deep. They are contained in mineral concretions called polymetallic nodules. There are also hydrothermal vents, some of which are over 120,000 years old.

These are the resources that are at the heart of the concerns. A coalition of NGOs is organized to protect them. The fear is that one passes to the stage of exploitation. Sian Owen, who is part of the Deep Sea coalition, warns that “the damage to the seabed will be irreversible”. “It is a part of the planet that takes centuries, even more, to reconstitute itself, she indicates. With this there will be pollution. And that risks damaging the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon “. A motion calling for a moratorium on logging was passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille last month. But France abstained.

The major exploration areas are in the international waters of the Pacific and the North Atlantic. An organization, which depends on the UN, was therefore set up. It issues exploration permits. France has two, which are applied by IFREMER. Two companies, Belgian and Canadian, now own the machines to exploit the deep sea. Last April, Greenpeace followed Deep Green in the Central Pacific, to assist in this exploration work. “It’s a bulldozer that you lower with a cable underwater, with a lot of technical constraints. Besides, they lost it for the first time and they found it, says François Chartier, Ocean camper at Greenpeace. But it is not something delicate that will take samples to understand completely unknown ecosystems. “

“When we talk about exploration, we often have scientific discoveries in mind. This is not at all that, it is mining exploration.”

François Chartier, “Ocean” campaign manager at Greenpeace

to franceinfo

In this case the NGOs criticize the governance which does not offer enough protection. A mining code is currently under discussion. The fear is that it will open the exploitation phase in a few years, in a context of strong demand for minerals for consumption.

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