Spain and Morocco fight for 2,670 tons of tellurium, a hidden treasure in the Canarian marine subsoil

The marine borders of Canary Islands they are not consolidated. Spain The US and Morocco have never reached a formal agreement to establish the limits between the African coast and that of the Archipelago. In the absence of an officially signed bilateral pact to draw a dividing axis, both countries resort to the median, a line that is drawn halfway between the coastline of both shores. There is no friction there. The conflict of interest is caused by the area located to the south of the Canary Islands, beyond the 200 nautical miles that includes the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Canary Islands..

Under these waters lies Mount Tropic, where it is estimated that some 2,670 tons of tellurium could lie, according to an estimate made in 2016 by the United Kingdom Oceanographic Center (NOC), in a joint expedition with the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute. (IGME). tellurium -a rare earth with great properties for conductivity- is considered ‘technological gold’, because it is essential for the operation of touch screens or the manufacture of fiber optics.

In 2014, Spain asked the United Nations Organization (UN) to extend the continental shelf of the Canary Islands up to 350 nautical miles -the maximum distance allowed-, but there is still no resolution to that request and the geological reports presented are still under study. . In January 2020, Rabat launched a pulse against Madrid for control of the waters near the Archipelago. Unilaterally, The Moroccan Parliament approved two laws in which its ZEE annexes part of the waters claimed by Spain and which include Mount Tropiclocated 269 miles southwest of El Hierro.

The cost of breaking stone thousands of meters deep makes the extraction of tellurium unexploitable

“It is a declaration without any legal validity, unless it is presented to the UN and this body gives it the go-ahead after speaking with the other interested countries,” he says. Doctor of Law from the University of La Laguna (ULL), Vicente Navarrowho maintains that Morocco has not requested that these waters be recognized, because he knows that Spain will present opposition and the attempt would be paralyzed. “It is a mere declaration of intentions at the internal level, because it exalts the patriotic spirit, but it has no effect at the legal level,” Navarro underlines..

The 1982 Sea Convention, signed in Montego Bay (Jamaica) establishes that the delimitation between countries that are geographically opposed must be established through a bilateral agreement, taking into account factors such as the population that lives on the coast and that needs marine resources for its survival, as well as the historical traditions of maritime use. After the meeting of the President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, with the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, “the working group on the delimitation of maritime spaces on the Atlantic façade is reactivated, with the aim of achieving concrete progress”, according to includes the joint statement published after the meeting of both leaders.

The terulium is considered ‘technological gold’, because it is essential for the operation of touch screens or the manufacture of fiber optics.

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The area occupied by Mount Tropic will be placed on the negotiating table. Its richness lies in phosphated limestone rocks and polymetallic manganese crusts, in which strategic metals such as nickel, cobalt and copper, as well as rare earths, are found. The professor of Crystallography and Mineralogy at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), José Mangas, points out that for each ton of rock or sediment could contain between one and three kilos of rare earths. “The Japanese have found pelagic marine sediments with high concentrations of rare earths in deep waters, so those sediment zones located at 4,000 or 5,000 meters deepin which rare earths could be found,” says Mangas.

Even with the certainty that there could be more than 2,600 tons of tellurium and large amounts of cobalt in Tropic Mountain, current techniques make the exploitation of these natural resources unprofitable. The cost of breaking stone thousands of meters deep would be so high that current prices would not cover it and would not compensate for the investment required to develop the necessary technology.

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