Manganese nodules grow incredibly slowly, at the rate of mere millimeters over the course of a million years. They are also a potential source of the rare earth elements that companies use to manufacture high-tech electronics, like smartphones. Last summer the UN's International Seabed Authority issued the first deep sea exploration permits, allowing companies to start actively looking for places to mine nodules and other sources of rare earth elements from the ocean floor. The start of exploration raises a lot of questions about the economic and environmental costs of deep sea mining.
The same German research organization (GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel) that partnered on the research cruise which discovered the nodules is also actively involved with looking into the impacts of deep sea mining. Last month they announced the start of a three-year research project involving 25 European research institutions which will focus on analyzing the impact of deep sea mining on the seafloor environment.