Deep-Sea Mining

What is it?

Deep seabed mining refers to the exploration and exploitation of minerals located on or in the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. This part of the seabed and subsoil, also called the ‘Area’ under the Law of the Sea Convention, and their resources are the common heritage of mankind. Deep seabed mining must be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Deep seabed mining is therefore different from exploration for and exploitation of minerals within the limits of national jurisdiction such as mining for offshore oil and gas or other minerals on States’ continental shelves.

Deep seabed mining is regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an international organisation created by the Law of the Sea Convention (https://www.isa.org.jm/scientific-activities). It has adopted regulations for the exploration of three types of deep-sea minerals: 

Polymetallic nodules 

https://www.isa.org.jm/mineral-resources/55

 

Polymetallic Sulphides

https://www.isa.org.jm/mineral-

resources/56

 

 

Ferromanganese Crusts

https://www.isa.org.jm/mineral-resources/57

 

 

Exploitation regulations for these minerals are currently being actively developed.

The ISA has entered into 15-year contracts with twenty-seven contractors for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean ( https://www.isa.org.jm/contractors/exploration-areas)

In the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone 

Why it matters

Deep-sea mining is a new frontier industry for the ocean, on the cusp of becoming a reality with frightening environmental challenges and exciting technological challenges;

This is an area where more research and dialogue can improve understanding of environmental issues as well as technological possibilities and limitations;

ACOPS Activities

ACOPS Trustees contribute to the work of the ISA and the deep seabed mining community through academic contributions.

Dr Philomène Verlaan is the voice of ACOPS on this topic. She specializes on scientific and legal issues linked to exploration for and exploitation of mineral in the Area. She has authored  a large number of peer-reviewed scientific and legal articles on this topic as well as talks to different audiences.

On 14-16 November 2019, Dr P Verlaan was an invited speaker to the  ISA 25th Anniversary Celebration in Kingston, Jamaica. She made a presentation on the Future of Deep Sea Mineral Resources: Environmental Issues. For more information on this event, see here.

Watch Dr Verlaan on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fk8Ahz-MH2o&feature=youtu.be.

Watch the presentation or Read Dr P. Verlaan’s paper (or slides) on different deep-sea minerals and their extraction that she presented at the 3rd FIGS Events Lecture on 15 October 2015. Dr P Verlaan was also an external adviser to the EU MIDAS Project (2013-2016) and provided extensive comments on behalf of ACOPS to the ISA Stakeholder Consultation in 2015 (ISBA/Cons/2015/1).

ACOPS seeks to raise awareness of deep-sea mining issues and link these to other international processes including IMO, London Convention/London Protocol and OSPAR where different aspects of the protection of the marine environment and the development of deep-sea mining are also discussed.

ACOPS is contributing to the development of the regulatory framework (Exploitation Regulations/Mining Code) to support sustainable deep-sea mining.

In 2016 ACOPS also convened a House of Lords dialogue on deep-sea mining.