Diamonds are becoming increasingly scarce. This is mainly because very few new diamond mines are being discovered and the demand for diamonds has exploded, particularly in Asia. But the search continues unabated, and not only on land. Are diamonds from the ocean the future of the diamond industry?
Diamonds under the ocean floor
Diamonds were formed millions of years ago and thrust to the earth's surface by volcanic activity. Most of the known diamond deposits are located on land. But there's also a sizeable supply of diamonds sitting beneath the ocean floor.
It's much cheaper to mine diamonds on land than in the sea. That's why at the moment there are only a handful of undersea diamond mines, all relatively small in scale. But because the available diamond stocks are dwindling, in the future underwater mining may come to be seen as a crucial alternative.
Since the fifties, the Marine Diamond Corporation has been mining diamonds in Oranjemund, a small town on the coast near the border between South Africa and Namibia. In the sixties, they extracted more than one and a half million carats of diamonds from a very small area.
Even today, most undersea mining still takes place along the Namibian coast. It's done with huge ships, which can mine horizontally as well as vertically. That means they use either an enormous vacuum cleaner or a gigantic drill. The drill is the cheaper option, but both are exceedingly expensive.
A 1.5 billion carat coastline
It's estimated that there are still around 1.5 billion carats of diamonds under the Namibian coastline. Other areas of the ocean may also hold a wealth of precious stones. The biggest challenge for mining companies is to extract these diamonds safely and without damaging the environment. A number of studies are currently underway into the effects of this form of mining on the local ecosystem.
At present, these undersea diamond mines are being operated on a small scale; and it's extremely unlikely that that will change any time soon. Because of the magnitude of such projects, for the moment it is simply too expensive an undertaking, even for the established names in the diamond industry.