New Mining Technology helps Keep Namibia’s Diamond Economy Afloat


MARCH, 2016


One of the world’s most prominent sources of diamonds is being exhausted, but new sources are on the rise.

Open-pit diamond mines in South Africa have been a major supplier of diamonds for over a hundred years. They formed under intense pressure and heat below ground before volcanic eruptions spewed some of them to the surface, where they are now mined. Experts, however, say that these mines are diminishing as a resource, and expect their output to decline two percent each year, possibly reaching exhaustion in 2050. This would be a hard hit not only to the world’s supply of diamonds, but also to Namibia’s economy, which diamonds have long sustained.

New Mining Technology

Beyond the mines, diamonds could be also found in Namibia’s Orange River. This recently led geologists to believe that chances of finding diamonds at sea were high. The success of this discovery cannot be overstated; last year, more than $600 million in diamonds were sucked from the sea through giant hoses by large mining ships.

The technology to extract diamonds from the sea took years to develop, and has only recently reached efficiency. As a testament to that, in 1991 fine jewelry company De Beers bought the rights to mine more than 3,000 square miles of the Namibian seafloor, and has so far explored merely three percent of that area. Now that the technology has finally improved for mining diamonds at sea sustainably, underwater diamonds have accounted for 13% of the value De Beers mines in a year.

Last year, more than $600 million in diamonds
were dredged from the sea.

Underwater diamonds have accounted for 13%
of the value De Beers mines in a year.

After scouting for promising underwater mining areas by drone, De Beers sends mining ships to dredge those areas. A remote-controlled crawler directs a large hose along the seafloor, sucking up tons of sediment per hour. Machines cull the sediment and sort away any diamonds within before returning the sediment to the sea, where De Beers says it eventually resettles.

The diamonds produced from underwater mining are among the most valuable gems on earth, featuring greater clarity than diamonds mined onshore. Namibia is considered the easiest place to mine for them, but other mining sites remain an option. So far, no offshore mining site has been quite as lucrative.

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