What is it and where does it happen?

Seabed mining generally refers to the exploration and exploitation of mineral (i.e. non-living) resources on and in the seabed. It includes offshore oil and gas extraction, as well as sand, gravel, tin and diamond mining which are mostly found on or in the ocean soil and subsoil located within 200 nautical miles of the coast and – other than oil and gas- in depths of less than 100 meters. Mineral resources found within these geographical limits are under the sovereign rights and exclusive  jurisdiction of the coastal State. However, this WG focuses specifically on the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources located on or in the ocean floor and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. These  activities are often collectively referred to as ‘deep seabed mining’ (DSM or SBM for seabed mining). This “international”part of the deep seabed and subsoil is called the ‘Area’ under the Law of the Sea Convention. Under this Convention, the Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind. All activities in the Area, including DSM, must be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole.

How is deep seabed mining regulated and for which minerals?

Deep seabed mining is regulated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an international organisation created by the Law of the Sea Convention. It has adopted regulations for the exploration of three types of deep-sea mineral resources:

Polymetallic nodules 

 
 

Polymetallic Sulphides 

 
 
 

Ferromanganese Crusts

 

The map below zooms into the exploration areas in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone

How does it matter?

DSM is a new frontier industry for the ocean, on the cusp of becoming a reality with redoubtable environmental challenges and exciting technological tasks and opportunities.

DSM is yet another growing use of the oceans whose effects on the marine environment must be considered in the context of other activities at sea, which may occur nearby or otherwise be adversely affected (and vice versa), as well as the cumulative adverse effects from all these activities to ensure the protection and preservation of the marine environment. These other activities, such as fishing, the laying of submarine cables and shipping,  are (more or less effectively) regulated by the Law of the Sea Convention and other institutions and bodies, therefore requiring robust and effective collaboration mechanisms between them. These mechanisms are more specifically explored in the context of ACOPS WG1 on Governance Coherence and impacts on sensitive areas and species in ACOPS WG3. 

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

ACOPS Activities

ACOPS has consultative status at the ISA. In this capacity and through the DSM community we engage with, we contribute to dialogues and developments in international law and marine sciences and technology to inform the decision-making process on the multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary aspects of this burgeoning activity.

We seek 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.

In addition to contributions to these intergovernmental processes, ACOPS made the following contributions:  

    • An invited presentation on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ISA in November 2019 ‘Future of Deep-Sea Mineral Resources: Environmental Issues‘. Details of the celebratory event, its programme and presentations can be accessed here;
    • Extensive comments to the ISA Stakeholder Consultation in 2015 (ISBA/Cons/2015/1), available here;
    • The convening of a House of Lords dialogue on deep-sea mining in 2006.

Useful and open-source resources

Website of the ISA: www.isa.org.jm