The University of Hawaii and the University of Mississippi have jointly established a Marine Minerals Technology Center consisting of an Ocean Basins Division located in Hawaii and a Continental Shelf Division located in Mississippi. The objectives of the center are to encourage the development of selected minerals and materials from seabeds within U.S. jurisdiction by providing opportunities for appropriate engineering systems research and development and technology transfer within the academic, government, and industrial communities and to provide the necessary facilities and leadership for the educating and training of engineers and scientists in marine minerals and mining.
The depletion of mineral reserves, the withdrawal of land available for mineral development, and the rising cost of mining have slowly changed the United States from a mineral-rich nation to one increasingly dependent on imports of many basic resources. The U.S. Bureau of Mines now lists 21 nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States is over 50 percent import dependent. Probably the most critical of these mineral commodities are cobalt and manganese, for which the U.S. is now 95 and 98 percent dependent on imports, respectively.
On March 10, 1983, President Reagan issued Proclamation 5030, which extends U.S. sovereignty over seabed mineral resources and living resources of the water to within 200 nautical miles from the coastline of the United States and its possessions. This Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) more than doubled the jurisdictional area of the United States. Mineral resources having potential commercial and strategic value are known to occur within the EEZ. Extensive precious metal, industrial, and agricultural mineral deposits have been documented in the nearshore waters of the continenta1 she1ves, and deposits of strategic metals have been found in the deep ocean basins. Because ocean resources are largely unexplored and poorly documented, other valuable mineral resources undoubtedly will be discovered.
The issuing of Proclamation 5030 and the creation of the EEZ demonstrated the United States' need to develop undersea mineral resources. However, due to the lack of developed engineering and technology in ocean mining, considerable planning and research will be required before efficient exploitation of many of these resources can be achieved. The United States must encourage research and development in this new frontier, particularly for those mineral commodities that will help maintain reasonable foreign trade balances and prevent the recurrence of emergency situations caused by strategic ore material shortages.
Minerals of interest occurring in the marine environment can be classified into five general commodity groups: construction materials, placer deposits, phosphorites, metalliferous oxides, and metallic sulfides. Each group requires a different development and management approach. Of these groups, the first three are predominantly continental shelf deposits and the remainder are predominantly ocean basin deposits.
Exploitation potential of the mineral resources of the shallow continental shelf is especially promising. The recovery of many mineral commodities, including shell, sand, gravel, and gold, is technically feasible and economically sound in today's markets, and offshore dredging operations for all of these commodities are ongoing in the United States.