Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Is drilling in the Red Sea good for science?

Red Sea from spaceA Canadian company has started a study to determine whether deep-sea mining in the Red Sea to extract minerals from hydro-thermal basins could be feasible, reports SciDev.Net. But will this provide Saudi Arabia and Sudan, who are interested in this project, an economic boost or will it wreck havoc on the sea’s fragile environmental system?

On the positive side, the project will supply a large amount of metals, such silver, cooper and zinc, worth up to US$8.21 billion according to a paper published last year by the Kiel Institute for World Economy.

The mining operations could also bring high-tech, good-paying jobs for local skilled workers. It could also bring jobs to local scientists, who would be trained up to international standards when they join the project. “The more locals you hire, the more goodwill you generate,” Wayen Malouf, the director of Diamond Fields International Ltd. (DFI) which is conducting the study, told SciDev.Net.

This has raised some concerns, however. Scientists from Saudi Arabia will likely be better trained than their Sudanese counterparts due to a better quality higher education system. This could lead to tensions in the relationship, as Saudi Arabian scientists will probably take most of the managerial and leadership positions.

On the other side, there has been no environmental assessment so far, though this will be part of the study prepared by DFI. The Red Sea is home to many rich coral reefs. Additionally, the mining operations may disturb microbes and bacteria living in brine pools under extreme conditions. Recent research suggests these bacteria may be a rich source of enzymes with numerous applications in biotechnologies. The feasibility study will test if the pumping system can bypass these bacteria and reach the mineral beds without disturbing them.

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