But as the exploration phase takes off after a research survey collected 400kg of nodules just a couple months ago, mining experts come prepared to join another survey disembarking at the end of this week.
Hans Smit is Chief Operating Officer of Ocean Minerals, a privately held seabed minerals and exploration development company focused on the nodules located in the Cook Islands.
He has 20 years of experience in worldwide underwater mining and subsea engineering, operating, and management.
After working in the subsea diamond mining industry in South Africa, Namibia, Smit says he switched to become an explorer doing underwater exploration.
This time, the Grinna ll will head north of Aitutaki to different nodule areas with an aim to collect a total of 500kg of nodules with freefall grabs.
In addition, Smit says they will collect sediment from the seafloor for analysis and test the temperature, salinity and density of the water column. They will also be examining the species that live in the sediment or on the sea floor.
Part of the research, he says, includes surface observations to look out for fish, dolphins and birds as well as boats that travel over the nodule areas.
“This is research at its key level. What we are doing is collecting nodules to inspect them and send them to laboratories to be analysed,” says Smit.
The nodules collected will be sent to Australia, Canada and China for analysis.
After conducting a second expedition for additional nodule bulk sample and continued environmental work, there will be a finalization for a mining contractor and downstream processor.
The joint venture has also welcomed on board Junior Tapoki from the National environment service, Anna Glassie who is the seabed mineral authority’s legal and licensing manager, private researcher on climate change Reboama Samuel, Sam Napa from the Voyaging Society, Charlee McLean from the Te Ipukarea Society and Israel Miles who is a Cook Islands graduate in Zoology.
Tapoki says “I think it’s a good phase in terms of educating our people. This could be our future, not just money-wise but environmentally too.”