The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is helping industrial teeth sink into nearby sea-floors, issuing seven new underwater mining licences.

The UN-backed authority approved the applications last week, saying it would give international companies access to a range of metals in the ocean floor. 

Work plans were approved for exploration of polymetallic nodules for the UK’s Seabed Resources, Ocean Mineral Singapore, and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation.

Similar approvals were awarded to the government of India, the Germany Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Brazil's Companhia de Pesquisa de Recursos Minerias.

The approvals are reportedly in line with the United Nations’ new plan for deep sea mining

The green lights add some validity to recent rumours that an underwater gold rush is beginning around the world.

“We are at the threshold of a new era of deep seabed mining,” ISA legal counsel Michael Lodge says.

But there are very few practices which have drawn similar controversy to the hugely sensitive idea of cracking open the seabed.

Seafloor systems come with incredible costs, but the ocean’s bounty is even richer.

Massive plumes of debris shoot from hydrothermal vents before settling on the ocean floor. These gradual build-ups eventually collapse on themselves, creating the mineral rich, high-grade deposits near the vent.

Coincidentally, many of these vents are located off the coast of Australia and in the Western Pacific rim, providing massive new sources of revenue to the international companies allowed to exploit them.

Regional authorities have vacillated in their acceptance of deep-sea mining.

The practice is currently under a moratorium in the Northern Territory until 2015; the New Zealand Environmental protection Agency continues to refuse consent for offshore iron sands mining; but Papua New Guinea’s government is happy to let Nautilus Minerals get to work on its seafloor mining scheme.