Nonprofit conservation organisation the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against the US Government for permitting controversial large-scale deepsea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

Challenging a pair of exploratory permits issued to OMCO Seabed Exploration by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the organisation claimed that they were issued without completing any environmental impact studies that are required by federal law.

The federal agency issued and renewed the permits to the Lockheed Martin’s subsidiary to pursue mining in the zone, which is situated in the equatorial Pacific Ocean located about halfway between Hawaii and Mexico.

Initial licenses were issued by NOAA in 1980 expired in 2004, and the latest case challenges their renewal in 2012 when the company requested them.

Environmental groups allege that the sea bed mining will destroy seafloor ecosystems, as well as hurt important habitat for whales, sharks and sea turtles.

The Center’s attorney Emily Jeffers, who filed the case in federal district court in Washington DC, said: "Like mountain top-removal coal mining, deepsea mining involves massive cutting machines that will leave behind a barren landscape devoid of life.

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"The federal government has a moral duty, as well as a legal one, to understand the full environmental impacts before the mining industry scrapes away our deepsea resources."

"Deepsea mining should be stopped, and this lawsuit aims to compel the government to look at the environmental risks before it leaps into this new frontier."

Jeffers claimed that strip mining the deep-ocean floor will damage complex underwater ecosystems.

Jeffers added: "The federal government has a moral duty, as well as a legal one, to understand the full environmental impacts before the mining industry scrapes away our deepsea resources.

Investors are finding it expensive and risky to extract billions of dollars worth of nickel, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, gold and other rare-Earth metals and minerals from deep ocean materials.

Technological advances and high prices for the materials are pushing the mining industry to extract them from the seabed beneath international waters.

Image: A loggerhead sea turtle. Photo: courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Damien DuToit.