Building the World

WATER/ENERGY: Deep Seabed Mining – Part 2


Deep Sea Mining will affect marine life in the largest continuous marine habitat on Earth. What do you think? Make your voice heard now Image: “Fluorescent Coral” by Erin Rod, 2019. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

In July 2023, the Legal and Technical Commission of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) will discuss a possible mining code framework. While autonomous bulldozers would not begin to scrape the deep until 2026, it is not too soon to take steps – before it is too late. Which should we value: energy or water? Part 1 of this discussion focused on energy: minerals like copper, cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, platinum, and rare earths are needed for batteries to store renewable energy. These minerals are present, in abundance, in the seabed. Part 2 of this topic brings the focus to the water environment in which these minerals are found. It is the largest continuous marine habitat on Earth. Many feel we should not undertake seabed mining too quickly, if at all. Mining disasters on land are evidence of potential damage: what would happen underwater, where currents could expand the problem?

Dr. Sylvia Earle, marine scientist, and founder of “Mission Blue” to preserve ocean life. Image: NOAA, 1970. Public domain. Included with appreciation.

Champions bring issues to life. Enter “Her Deepness”: Sylvia Earle. Earle’ organization Mission Blue has proposed Hope Spots to preserve the ocean environment. Enter Lewis William Gordon Pugh, often called “Sir Edmund Hillary in a Swim Suit,” the first person to swim every ocean including Antarctic waters to promote awareness of the Ross Sea –  now largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the world. Enter Rena Lee: leader of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity, who chaired 36 hours of nonstop negotiation that produced the agreement for the High Seas Treaty to protect 30% of Earth’s water and land by 2030. Marine Protected Areas offer a chance to save enough to sustain the ocean environment. Related to that concept is the campaign of 50 Reefs to protect some of the world’s most sustainable coral reefs with the hope of regenerating neighboring reefs over time.

Global Marine Protected Areas (as of November 2022). Image from Marine Protection Atlas, Marine Conservation Institute; graphic by Yo. Russmo. CC 4.0. Included with appreciation.

ISA has initiated a few marine protected areas of their own. They call these “Areas of Particular Environmental Interest” or APEI. Recently, ISA approved four new ones in the CCZ totaling 200,000 square miles (518,000 square kilometers). Just as a comparison, the CCZ is 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million sq km). Next to be determined: how will exploited versus protected areas be compared to track environmental changes if or when mining begins?

Deep Sea Mining may soon begin in the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico. Image: “Polymetallic Nodules Exploration Area in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone” by International Seabed Authority (ISA), 2016. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

ISA “DeepData” began in 2002 as a way to collect and centralize all data on marine mineral resources. Will the APEIs be included? Comparing and measuring an initial mined area with a protected area could monitor effects before opening permits to other projects.

Some companies, and countries, have called for a moratorium on deep sea mining. Once it begins, there may be consequences we have not anticipated. Image: “Mid-ocean ridge topography” graphic by United States Geological Survey, 2011. Public domain. Included with appreciation.

Some business users of minerals like cobalt have declared they will not purchase or use any materials obtained by deep sea mining. Some countries have signed a moratorium including Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Federation States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Germany, New Zealand, Palau, Panama, Samoa, and Spain, among others. More than 700 scientists joined with the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) to warn about potential damage. Sir David Attenborough advised a moratorium and the UK offered a opportunity to sign a petition (if you are a UK citizen or resident). Some experts state we can reduce mineral demand by 58%,  thereby avoiding a need for deep sea mining. When all ISA members (the USA is not among them) meet in July 2023, a precautionary pause discussion is on the agenda. But there are states, including Nauru, that want to proceed.

Climate disasters closer to home take our immediate attention. The Cerberus heatwave of 2023 may be even hotter than that of 2022, shown here from Copernicus Sentinel satellite data. Image: “Surface Air Temperature Anomaly July 2022” by ESA/Copernicus Sentinel. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Why don’t we hear more about sea bed mining on the news? Present climate disasters are closer to home. The Cerberus heatwave scorching southern Europe made headlines. Copernicus Sentinel satellite data showed land temperatures in Spain’s Extremadura region climbed to 60C (140F) this week. Across the southern United States, a “heat dome” blanketed states from Texas to Florida. Torrential rains (warmer water retains more moisture) engulfed Vermont. New York State closed sections of the Erie Canal due to severe flooding. Japan’s Shinkansen train system came to a halt as the country coped with a once-in-a-millennium rainfall. Environmental disasters where we live understandably deflect focus from what is out of sight, like the deep sea.

The ocean is the largest continuous marine habitat on Earth. Image: “Dumbo Octopus, Opisthoteuthis agassizii” by NOAA, 2019. CC 3.0. Included with appreciation.

The issue of deep sea mining is critical to the future. But, importantly, it has not yet begun. Some say it may be inevitable, but it should not be unnoticed, and certainly must be carefully undertaken. There is time for you to become involved, to offer your ideas and your suggestions. You can find out more, and sign a petition to vote on this issue here.

Let your voice be heard on deep sea mining as ISA gathers to decide. Image: “Your Vote Counts” by NAACP, Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Nauru and Deep Sea Mining” 30 June 2023.

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “The Race to Defend the Deep Heats Up in Kingston.” 10 July 2023.

Greenpeace International. “Petition on Deep Sea Mining.”…/act/stop-deep-sea-mining/

Greenpeace International. “Governments leave door open to deep sea mining starting this year.” 31 March 2023.

Heffernan, Olive. “Seabed mining is coming – bringing minerals, riches, and fears of epic extinctions.” 24 July 2019 Nature.

Humphreys, John and Robert W.E. Clark. “A  Critical History of Marine Protected Areas.” 2020. Marine Protected Areas: Science, Policy, and Management, pp. 1-12.

International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Khan, Yusuf. “Deep-Sea Mining Is Close to Reality Despite Environmental Concerns” 22 August 2022. The Wall Street Journal.

Mission Blue. VIDEO. Netflix.

MIT. “Deep Sea Mining.”

Rabone, M., et al., “A review of the International Seabed Authority database DeepData from a biological perspective,” 30 March 2023. DATABASE: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation, Volume 2023.

Simas, Moana, Fabian Aponte, Kirsten Wiebe. “The Future is Circular: Circular Economy and Critical Minerals for the Green Transition.” 15 November 2022. Project number 102027433. SINTEF.

United Nations. “High Seas Treaty.”

World Wildlife Fund. “Future mineral demand can be met without deep seabed mining as innovative technology can cut mineral use by 58%.” 28 November 2022.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U








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