Right now, six ships comb the ocean, sucking sediment from the seabed. The immense vessels are operated by Debmarine Namibia, a three way partnership between the Namibian Authorities and diamond big De Beers.
One of these car — known as a crawler ship — has a 280-ton mechanical arm that strikes in a horizontal arc, dredging materials from simply beneath the ocean flooring, at depths of round 400 ft.
Diamonds are then sifted from the dredged gravel in a classy remedy plant onboard the ship. The gravel is returned to the ocean and the gems are securely sealed in containers, loaded into metal briefcases, and flown by helicopter to shore.
No human palms contact the diamonds throughout the complete manufacturing course of at sea.
Gems in a haystack
Debmarine Namibia has a license to function off the coast of Namibia till 2035 inside a 2,316 sq. mile space — just below half the scale of Jamaica.
However, whereas the ships mine 24 hours a day, 365 days a yr, they are not scouring each final sq. mile, explains Otto Shikongo, CEO of Debmarine Namibia.
“You solely mine areas that are mineable and worthwhile,” Shikongo tells CNN. “It doesn’t suggest that each place that you simply discover diamonds you go mine.”
He says Debmarine Namibia has depleted a complete of 50 sq. miles since manufacturing started in 2002, simply two % of the license space.
“The useful resource is patchy and never homogenous,” he says, including that the way forward for the mining will rely upon their understanding of the seabed and technological advances.
“It isn’t the identical as a land-based useful resource which you’ll see along with your eyes… this one is 120 meters [393 feet] underneath the water,” he says.
Occasionally Debmarine Namibia sends out unmanned, autonomous autos — very similar to underwater drones — to survey the seabed utilizing sonar expertise.
The workforce additionally makes use of a two-person submarine to look at the geology of the seafloor.
To this point these mixed applied sciences have recognized a mineralized space — or an space containing diamonds — of 617 sq. miles. This makes up simply over 1 / 4 of the overall license space.
The hope is to find extra diamond-containing areas by additional exploration and sampling, explains Shikongo.
Survival of the fittest
Whereas marine diamonds could also be tough to search out, they’re actually definitely worth the hunt.
Shikongo explains how nature ensured that solely the “fittest” diamonds survived the journey alongside the Orange River, whereas weaker, imperfect stones had been destroyed.
“As a result of the diamonds went by a excessive power course of, virtually like a tumbling impact, solely the very best, prime quality diamonds survived and made it to the ocean,” he says.
Consequently, Shikongo estimates that 95% of diamonds recovered from the ocean are of “gem high quality,” in comparison with simply 40-60% of diamonds from land operations.
However, within the seek for these treasured gems, 1000’s of tons of sediment is dredged up after which dumped overboard.
“The waters off the coast of Namibia are an essential space for a excessive variety of resident and migratory species, resembling sharks, whales, dolphins and seals,” Kirsten Thompson, a marine scientist from the College of Exeter, tells CNN over e mail.
“Marine mining removes elements of the seabed with heavy equipment and habitat restoration from one of these disturbance can take a long time.”
However Shikongo says Debmarine Namibia regularly displays its footprint.
In response to Shikongo, the corporate’s environmental monitoring program discovered that it takes between two to 10 years for the seabed, and related marine life, to recuperate.
Nevertheless, in rockier terrains pure restoration might take greater than 10 years.
Thompson provides that diamond mining can impression ocean life by elevated ship visitors, noise, mild and air pollution, and is only one of many actions degrading the marine setting.
“Marine species are already experiencing profound modifications as a result of local weather change and different human-related actions, resembling fishing, plastic air pollution and delivery,” she says.
“Some species and habitats are merely not resilient sufficient to deal with these a number of stresses concurrently.”
Offshore mining is more and more essential for the diamond trade in Namibia, as land-based manufacturing begins to tail off.
“Land operations have been there since 1908,” explains Shikongo. “So these sources will not be finite as we all know and as time goes … manufacturing tends to taper down.”
With all eyes on the Atlantic, the query stays: How quickly will we exhaust this treasured underwater useful resource?
Shikongo believes there are in all probability sufficient stones scattered throughout the Atlantic seabed for Debmarine Namibia to proceed mining for not less than the following 20 years.
The one problem is discovering them.