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July 2018
What is Deep Sea Mining?
Episode 2: Deep Frontiers

Written by Stefan Helmreich

With Margarida Mendes
Written by anthropologist Stefan Helmreich, What is Deep Sea Mining? Episode 2: Deep Frontiers is a brief history about knowledge of the deep sea and its resources. It highlights the ambiguity of this history, as depictions of the deep changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, this knowledge informs discussions about the commercialization of biological and geological resources, with the deep sea fast becoming a zone of international dispute, opening up a debate about sustainable practices at sea.

What is Deep Sea Mining? is a five episode web series dedicated to the topic of deep sea mining, a new frontier of resource extraction at the bottom of the ocean, set to begin in the next few years. Deep sea mining will occur mainly in areas rich in polymetallic nodules, in seamounts, and in hydrothermal vents. Mining companies are already leasing areas in national and international waters in order to extract minerals and metals such as manganese, cobalt, gold, copper, iron, and other rare earth elements from the seabed. Main sites targeted for future exploration are the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Clarion Clipperton Zone (Pacific Ocean) in international waters, as well as the islands of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Japan, and the Portuguese Azores archipelago. Yet, potential impacts on deep sea ecosystems are yet to be assessed by the scientific community, and local communities are not being consulted.

The prospects of this new, experimental form of mining are re-actualizing a colonial, frontier mentality and redefining extractivist economies for the twenty-first century. This web series addresses different issues related to this process, from resource politics to ocean governance by international bodies, prompting today’s shift towards a "blue economy" but also efforts to defend sustained ocean literacy when the deep ocean, its species, and resources remain largely unmapped and unstudied.

Stefan Helmreich is Professor of Anthropology at MIT. He is the author of Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) and, most recently, of Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2016). His essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Representations, American Anthropologist, Cabinet, and The Wire.

What is Deep Sea Mining? is developed in collaboration with Margarida Mendes, curator and activist from Lisbon, Portugal, and founding member of Oceano Livre environmental movement against deep sea mining. What is Deep Sea Mining? is a webseries commissioned by TBA21–Academy.

For more information and links to NGOs, advocacy, and activist groups involved in deep sea mining please follow the extras below.

Acknowledgements: Stefan Helmreich, Matt Gianni, and everyone who helped this web series. Special thanks to: Markus Reymann, Stefanie Hessler, and Filipa Ramos.

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