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Marine Science



The 28th session of the ISA comes to a close with the future of the deep sea at stake. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meeting concluded on November 8 in Kingston, Jamaica. States continued to negotiate a mining code that, if it is adopted, would open the fragile deep sea to deep-sea mining, raising the need for a moratorium on this destructive industry now. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), representing over 100 non-governmental organisations around the world, has been present in Kingston during the negotiations from October 30 – November 8.

 Since the beginning of the 28th Session of the ISA in March 2023, momentum for a moratorium or precautionary pause has continued to grow, with 11 new states calling to halt the industry. The United Kingdom was the latest to announce its support for a moratorium on the opening day of the Council meeting (30 October), bringing the total number of countries to 23 calling for a moratorium, precautionary pause, or ban on the industry.

The DSCC’s Global Deep-Sea Mining Campaign Lead, Sofia Tsenikli, stated:

“Humanity is at a crossroads. Deep-sea mining is a once-in-a-generation decision to either destroy or protect the deep sea – one of the last remaining pristine areas on our planet. The growing consensus is that deep-sea mining should not go ahead; it is not needed, not wanted, and not worth the risk. We look forward to welcoming more countries into this wide-ranging coalition of States, scientists, businesses, Indigenous leaders, youth, and other stakeholders to safeguard our ocean for future generations.”

Despite efforts by some countries at the ISA to fast-track the adoption of mining regulations by 2025, huge inconsistencies, gaps, and differences amongst negotiators were evident in the draft regulations throughout the 8-day Council meeting, many of which appear insurmountable.

Civil society continued to be a strong voice within the negotiations, giving powerful interventions regarding the lack of science and understanding of the deep sea, the need for greater transparency and independence from mining companies and contractors, the need for free, prior, and informed consent by Indigenous Peoples and protection of cultural values, why deep-sea minerals are not needed to fuel the green transition, and how the current draft regulations will not prevent the irreversible harm and destruction of the marine environment.

The DSCC’s Policy Officer, Emma Wilson, commented:

“States understand that deep-sea mining will cause irreversible harm and destruction to the marine environment. Due to the ISA’s pro-mining structure, we know that adopting a mining code will simply pave the way for this damaging extractive activity to begin in the context of sparse scientific understanding and harmful operational practices. The only truly precautionary approach to deep-sea mining  is a moratorium.”

As the ISA now begins preparations for its 29th session in 2024, key issues beyond the mining code still remain unsolved, including the arcane 2-year legal loophole that could allow for a mining application to be received and approved without mining regulations in place.

Duncan Currie, the DSCC’s legal advisor, added:

Would-be deep-sea miners, The Metals Company, have indicated their clear intention to submit an application to mine in August 2024, or soon after that, regardless of whether rules and regulations are in place, defying States that have directly called for no mining until regulations are agreed. If States do not take the necessary steps to safeguard the ocean now, there is a very real risk that the world will sleepwalk into deep-sea mining beginning due to the actions of one company bent on making a quick profit from the destruction of the deep sea.”

A paper published in Nature on November 8 concludes that while deep-sea mining may generate short-term profits for mining companies, long-term benefits would likely be minimal because of business model and litigation risks, public opposition, and competition from land-based mining. The paper also stated that deep-sea mining licensed by the ISA “may marginally benefit low-income countries under ISA, if at all, and countries sponsoring deep seabed mining in the Area. However, this would come with dire, irreparable loss to humanity and nature, making it difficult to justify.”

Furthermore, during the ISA Council meeting, a new report was released refuting the common misconception, promoted by mining interests, that it’s necessary to mine the ocean for metals for the electric vehicle battery market.

The DSCC’s co-founder, Matthew Gianni, added:

Reports continue to show that deep-sea mining is a false solution to the climate crisis, will come at a high environmental cost, and is not needed to fuel a green energy transition. Alternatives to mining metals in the deep sea are a reality, with next-generation batteries and technologies either reusing metals in circulation or not requiring metals found in the deep ocean. As we combat the climate crisis, we must move away from ‘business as usual’ extractive economies and single-use metals and other materials, and focus on building more sustainable and circular approaches, making better use of what we already have.”

Image credit: NOAA