In conversation with Dr. G. A. Ramadass, Group Head, Scientist-G, Deep Sea Technologies Group, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT). In an exclusive interview, Dr. Ramadass talks about India’s plans to mine polymetallic nodules in the Indian Ocean. Major nations are looking to the oceans for mineral and fuel reserves as reserves on land deplete fast. Dr. Ramadass sheds light on the process of analysing data on mineral deposits in the Indian ocean.
G’nY: How beneficial will mining in the seas be viz-a-viz land mining – in terms of cost?
Dr. Ramadass: Presently the stress is on proving technical viability of India. The initial efforts to assess the cost benefit vis-a-vis land mining indicated that ocean mining is costlier as compared. However, we have to consider the fact that land resources are depleting rapidly and thus there is an urgent need for development of new technologies.
G’nY: Do we have competent technologies to mine effectively?
Dr. Ramadass: To assess India’s technical viability, demonstrative mining at 5400 m depth has been conducted. It is a research and development effort and the effectiveness of the technology can only be ascertained through repeated trials and industry participation.
G’nY: When polymetallic nodules are mined from the ocean bed, marine fauna and flora are bound to get disturbed. Increased turbidity in marine waters due to transportation of mineral to the surface can affect biological productivity of the marine ecosystem by decreasing available sunlight for photosynthesis. Besides, water from the ocean bed brought up during mining can cause artificial upwelling. Do you think current technologies can prevent these problems? If so, how?
Dr. Ramadass: Mining of polymetallic nodules has been done at depths where very little marine fauna and flora are present. Light cannot penetrate more than 100 m below the sea surface. So, there is no possibility of turbidity at the surface and obstruction of sunlight. Neither is there any possibility of affecting the biological productivity of the marine ecosystem. However, special care is taken while discharging small pieces of nodules. Small amount of mud that is brought up while mining is also disposed at depths where marine flora and fauna would not get affected.
G’nY: In view of the migration of fish fauna in many parts of the Indian coast, affecting fisher populations, won’t sea bed mining only add to existing threats, and cause further decline in fisheries catch?
Dr. Ramadass: The mining sites are thousands of kilometres from the coast. The distance and the depth at which mining is done can in no way affect coastal populations as fishing boats rarely reach these regions. Also, the mining area falls in the international waters and not in the exclusive economic zone of any country. Thus, there is no harm whatsoever foreseeable for the fishing community.