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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
It's rich in diverse ocean life and metals. Countries and companies know it. There are twelve claims to mine the ocean bottom from south of Hawaii to waters off the coast of Mexico.
"These are exploration claims. They include a Russian federation, Korea, Japan, China, Germany, France, an eastern European consortium. The United Kingdom is working with Lockheed Martin Corporation," said Craig Smith, professor with the University of Hawaii Oceanography Department.
The countries are after clusters of minerals that can be used to make jet engines, smart phones and a wide array of electronics.
"The quality of the mineral ore is really high in these nodules and terrestrial resources are diminishing," Smith said.
Each claim covers about 20,000 square miles. Smith and others in scientific and legal communities want regulations in place so the areas aren't stripped bare.
"Once the mining starts, it'll just keep going until the resource is gone," he said.
Smith believes that without controls, deep sea corals and other ocean life could be at risk for extinction.
"It's an area that's actually so remote it's been difficult to sample," he said. "We know the diversity is very high, but we don't know how many species there are. There are thousands to tens of thousands."
About 400,000 square miles of the region are presently off limits to mining claims. But that expires in two years. Smith and others want the protections made permanent.
"So that there is a core area where the species that are down there can reproduce and continue to complete their life cycles and persist," he said.
Smith said the Pacific Ocean is a sweet spot for nodules that contain metals. Besides the dozen mining claims that have been granted, two more are pending.