A Sperm Whale National Park Area or A Stove Seamount

Three times I’ve traveled across the codfish gray seas of Georges Banks, about 150 miles southeast of Nantucket, out onto the Mediterranean blue of Oceanographer’s Canyon. Every time we saw sperm whales surface, blow a spout that arched diagonally to the whale’s left, and dive.  One time we found a dead whale floating on the water likely killed by a ship strike.  This wondrous ocean realm is in great need of better management.

In 2016 President Obama did just that. He created the NE Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.  He left for posterity a legacy that portends to be as great as President Theodore Roosevelt creating the Grand Canyons National Monument in 1908.  While eagles soar over the infamous Arizona canyons, sperm whales dive the cold water coral canyons of the Atlantic Ocean.

The trouble is the current president has requested reports be made on the “lost opportunity costs” of having a national park area instead of letting industry cash in on more lucrative enterprises such as oil and gas drilling. Most precious of all is a high-tech metal found in rare earth minerals, tellurium.  Due partly to its high atomic number, this element is rarer than gold or platinum, and it’s in more demand.

Tellurium when combined with bismuth becomes an alloy that is used by Intel for the fastest phase change memory chips.  When tellurium is combined with cadmium the result is the alloy with the greatest efficiencies for solar cell electric power generation.

In the Atlantic Ocean off the continent, four seamounts rise up from the ocean abyssal floor, Bear Seamount (3,615 ft), Physalia Seamount (6,062 ft), Retriever Seamount (5,967 ft.), and Mytilus Seamount (7,444 ft).  Each has its own unique assemblages of animals.  The craggy peaks are gnarly with black basalt.  This volcanic rock is very porous and soaks up rare earth minerals from seawater.  Over the millennia a crust is formed rich in tellurium.

Tellurium is mined from ancient seamounts in the mountains of China.  China will not permit the export of tellurium forcing companies to manufacture solar cells and computer chips in China.  The solar cell industry was looking to New England’s seamounts when Obama wisely went around Congress to create the monument.  He forced the industries to look instead to recovering tellurium from discarded solar panels and computer boards, as a company in Belgium does, or to mine tellurium from Mountain Pass in California.

While industries bellied-up to China’s tellurium mines, America’s only rare-earths mineral mine at Mountain Pass California filed for bankruptcy.  No surprise, the winning bidder for America’s rare earth minerals mine has ties to the Chinese government.

Unfortunately for the spectacular ocean places off of New England’s shores, instead of standing up to China like he promised in his campaign, President Trump would rather open up our four unique seamount ocean ecosystems to mining.

The window of opportunity to comment on why the NE Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is of greater value to our nation than is mineral mining or oil drilling will close on Wednesday July 26. Speak out for the protection of these sperm whale canyons and seamounts.  We can find better ways to keep the glow on our screens and panels.

Offshore Watchmen on the Frontline under Global Warming Assault

President Obama favored lobstermen before solar-cell industrialists when he protected a 4,900 square mile ocean refuge 150 miles east of Cape Cod.  The Antiquities Act was used to go around a grid-locked Congress to establish the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument.  The designated ocean wildlife refuge features three canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia Canyons) incised into the continental shelf on the south side of Georges Bank, and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever) that rise up ten thousand feet off the Atlantic Ocean’s abyssal floor. Permanently protected are seven sea places – essential ocean habitats like no other.

The solar-cell industry has expressed interest in mining these seamounts. Summits of the four volcanic seamounts are more than one thousand feet below the surface, in complete darkness. Seamounts are made of hard basalt rock with a remarkable porosity of 60%. Gnarly with much surface areas, seamounts sponge out of seawater rare earth minerals (cerium, europium, lanthanum, and yttrium) and high tech metals (tellurium, cobalt, bismuth, zirconium, niobium, tungsten, molybdenum, platinum, titanium, and thorium).

High tech metals are refined and combined into alloys. Tellurium combined with bismuth becomes an alloy that is being tested as a next-generation computer chip that is more efficient and immensely faster than existing chips. Tellurium is combined with cadmium into an alloy that is considered the best material for production of multi-terawatt solar-cell electricity using thin-film photovoltaic technology.

Ancient seamounts in the mountains of China are currently being mined. China refuses to export rare earth minerals and high tech metals. Companies must instead manufacture in China. Similar mines could be opened in Californian mountains, where many new jobs would be costlier for industry. Thus the president acted to make sure the wrecking ball of high-tech metal mining will never destroy the unique assemblages of marine life living deep below on Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever Seamounts.

The ocean refuge has also been protected from overfishing. Prohibited are trawling and purse seining for Loligo squid, whiting, and mackerel, and dredging for scallops and shellfish.  Out over the seamounts, gill netting and long lining for swordfish, yellow fin and skip jack have been banned.

Unprecedented for a national park or refuge, some people of this seascape may stay and continue to work there. (For them, there will be no mustering of a Mariposa Battalion.) For seven years, lobstermen are permitted to trap lobsters on the ribbon of ocean floor less than 500 meters deep that wraps the northern ends of the three ocean canyons and connects the intervening continental slope waters.

Unable to see beneath the sea’s face, for the most part, there is no more immediate reassurance of a healthy ocean than a working lobster boat. Though the wood pot frames invented by Ebenezer Thorndike in Swampscott (1808) have been replaced by plastic-coated metal, the pursuit of lobsters has not changed over the generations.  These deep water trappers are the undersea canyon rangers. With intimate knowledge of this ocean realm, they are the eyes on the resource. At no public expense, these watchmen serve far offshore on a continental frontline under assault by the effects of Global Warming.

Voyage with the Ocean River Institute, become a savvy guardian of the commons, defender of the wild.   Make a donation and champion social justice for all living beings.

minots-light

Port tack offshore of Minot’s Ledge Light, Scituate, Massachusetts