Mining the vents' mineral, metal and creature resources, or even taking samples for study, has become a controversial issue.
At one extreme, some conservationists urge that vents be left entirely alone. At the other extreme, mining proponents argue that we must be able to exploit vents, particularly extinct vents, to replace dwindling resources on the earth's surface.
Those whose opinions range between these extremes suggest that we treat vents with respect and restraint.
- Some would make vents off-limits to mining, development and fishing. They contend that such intrusive activities would destroy vent communities and upset the oceans' ecological balance. They would, however, permit continued but controlled research sampling.
- Others propose some system of sanctuaries to preserve and protect vents even further. The United States has 46,620 sq. km (18,000 sq. miles) of ocean and coastal water designated as National Marine Sanctuaries. Geochemist Jack Dymond suggests using the national park system in the US as a model for safeguarding hydrothermal vents. Marine geologist Rachel Haymon of the University of California-Santa Barbara and marine ecologist Richard Lutz of Rutgers University advocate going further, making vents a deep-sea refuge where only non-intrusive, "look, don't-touch" research is conducted.
- Inter-Ridge is an initiative for international cooperation in ridge-crest studies which favors a world-wide mix of sanctuary vents and research vents. Such a mix, they argue, would provide opportunities for research as well as protection of vent communities. They caution that their plan can work only if scientists and governments agree on sites and work together to uphold the designations.
Image courtesy of NOAA.
What do you think? Should research continue? Should mining of vents' mineral and biological resources be permitted? Why or why not?
You may register your opinion in our on-line Forum and see what other visitors have said. We will forward remarks periodically to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for their consideration.
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