I earned my scuba diving certification 30 years ago, although I don’t use it very often. It’s not that I don’t like diving, it just takes a lot of time and planning.
Still, during our family’s years in Florida we took the occasional East Coast trip to dive some of the numerous shipwrecks that aren’t too far off the coast.
And after my younger daughter got certified at 12 years old, we made a trip off of Venice, Florida, where we searched for prehistoric shark teeth.
To find them, you had to know where to look. Local dive captains guard their GPS coordinates for finding likely shark teeth as if what they’re looking for is sunken treasure.
In a way, it is.
The same thing that makes most dive trips all-day affairs is what drives up the value of locations where you can find shark teeth. It’s all about location, because most of the ocean floor is filled with nothing.
At least, nothing of immediate interest.
That’s not the part they show you on the Discovery Channel. Instead, you see beautiful video of bright-colored coral and majestic sea life. That stuff’s down there, but it’s not poking out of every crevice and covering every square inch.
Think about the last time you went in the water at the beach. What did you step on? Chances are, a whole lot of nothing, or rather, sand. That stuff stretches for miles.
Anyone hunting for lost shipwrecks filled with treasure is intimately familiar with this issue. They have to find the wrecks on the vast ocean floor, and then figure out how to get all that stuff back to dry land.
For the past 25 years, one company in the U.S., Odyssey Marine Exploration (Nasdaq: OMEX), has excelled at this task, but they’ve recently changed direction. Not because they ran out of wrecks, but because they ran into an immovable object: bureaucracy.
That’s OK, though. As the company’s CEO, Mark Gordon, recently told me, the pivot away from archeological finds will most likely make the company wildly more successful than it could’ve been otherwise.
Odyssey did everything right. The company registered its underwater finds with the appropriate government authorities, took detailed video of wrecks to preserve their character, and presented historical data and artifacts to governments and museums.
But it wasn’t enough. No matter what assurances Odyssey had before they excavated a site, there was always some government agency or group that sued them afterward. They were interested in taking everything that Odyssey retrieved.
It’s not much of a business to find shipwrecks, retrieve artifacts and stores of gold and silver, and then have it all confiscated. That’s charity.
So Odyssey reviewed its skill set: deep underwater exploration and excavation, extensive mapping of the ocean floor, and a knowledgeable employee base. If they weren’t looking for manmade treasure on the floor of the ocean, maybe they could find something else – the naturally-occurring kind.
For millennia, man has looked for valuable deposits on land. We’ve dug for everything from iron to gold. But dry land is a limiting factor, since 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Now consider that everything found in land formations is also found underwater.
You simply have to know where to look… and how to get it out.
This is Odyssey’s bread and butter. Now the company is on the cusp of a deal that will cement its future.
Recently Odyssey inked a deal to excavate phosphate in Mexican waters. The mineral is a key ingredient in fertilizer, which makes it invaluable for improving crop yields. Mexico has very little phosphate on land, so the country must import it.
When offshore mining gets underway, Mexico will suddenly be able to mix fertilizer that will help feed its population and add a valuable export to its economy.
The last administrative hurdle left for Odyssey to clear is an environmental review. Gordon is hopeful that this will happen, since Odyssey has teamed with a group that’s performed hundreds of dredging operations in Mexico.
Since going public in the 1990s, Odyssey’s stock price has been on a wild ride. It shot above 80 in the mid-2000s before recently dipping to single-digits… and that’s after a reverse, 1-for-12 stock split.
But if underwater mining comes to fruition, Odyssey – and companies like it – could have a bright future. And the world population could suddenly have access to new sources of precious deposits such as rare earth minerals, gold and silver, and of course, phosphate.
You just have to know where to look.
And Mark does. He’s promised to talk more about his company’s days searching for shipwrecks, and give a better picture of the incredible opportunities that lie on the bottom of the sea at our fifth annual Irrational Economic Summit this October in Nashville. Seats are limited. Get your tickets today!
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