Mining seas for minerals

Hundreds of miles out to sea on the dark, deep floor of the world's oceans lies a treasure of minerals. These minerals are so valuable that they are worth trillions of dollars.

Among the minerals are nickel, cobalt, iron ore, and copper, which are in rocks on the ocean bottom.

It's easy to see why mining companies want to bring this treasure up from the ocean. Nickel, for instance, is used to make steel. Nickel can be found in such household goods as stainless steel kitchen sinks, knives, and metals bowls. Cobalt is used in metals in computers.

Powerful mining companies are busy making big machines to gobble up these minerals on the bottom of the ocean. Some of them can even scoop up loads four miles below on the seabed.

But getting the minerals is not as simple as trying to mine gold or coal on land.

One newspaper report said that getting the minerals from the ocean was like standing on the top of the Empire State Building at night and sucking pebbles up from the street below through a straw.

Finding the machines to get the minerals from the ocean is not the only problem facing the mining companies. Another big problem is who owns the minerals in the world's oceans.

The question of who owns the sea is one of the biggest issues in the world today. We have maps showing borders of countries, but no maps to show who owns the oceans, even though there is far more water than land on the earth. Almost three-fourths of the total surface area of the world is made up of ocean.

The countries of the world have been working on a form of world government for the oceans for several years, and the United Nations is trying to settle the question of who owns the oceans by writing a Law of the Sea.

Now it looks as though all the nations or nearly all of them are ready to make an agreement.

This is what they have decided so far:

* Each coastal country has the right to own and patrol the first 12 miles of sea. It's as if the boundaries of that nation were stretched 12 miles into the sea.

* Countries that touch the ocean can also claim the first 200 miles from the shore as reserved for them to fish and drill for oil.

* The countries will try to control pollution, and they will give all the ships of the world the right to pass through important waterways like canals and straits.

But the United Nations has not yet settled the question of who mines the ocean floor beyond the 200-mile zone. Poor countries are worried that the rich countries will act like pirates and steal all the minerals on the ocean floor.

The Law of the Sea is aimed at making sure that every country has a fair share in the wealth.

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