The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is preparing to resume negotiations that could open the international seabed for mining, including for materials critical for the green energy transition.
What is Deep Sea Mining?
Deep sea mining involves removing mineral deposits and metals from the ocean’s seabed.
Types: There are three types of such mining:
taking deposit-rich polymetallic nodules off the ocean floor
mining massive seafloor sulphidedeposits
stripping cobalt crusts from rock
Utilisation: These nodules, sulphide deposits and crusts contain materials, such as nickel, rare earths, cobalt and more.
They are needed for batteries and other materials used in tapping renewable energy and also for everyday technology like cellphones and computers.
Technology used for deep sea mining:
artificial intelligence-based technology
deep sea robots to pluck nodules from the floor
advanced machines that could mine materials off side of huge underwater mountains and volcanoes
Deep Sea Mining Regulations
Countries manage their own maritime territory and exclusive economic zones, while the high seas and the international ocean floor are governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
It is considered to apply to states regardless of whether or not they have signed or ratified it.
Under the treaty, the seabed and its mineral resources are considered the “common heritage of mankind” that must be managed in a way that protects the interests of humanity through the sharing of economic benefits, support for marine scientific research, and protecting marine environments.
What are the Environmental Concerns?
Damage to ecosystem: The ecosystems can be damaged by mining, especially without any environmental protocols.
Damage from mining can include noise, vibration and light pollution, as well as possible leaks and spills of fuels and other chemicals used in the mining process.
Threat to species: Sediment plumes from the some mining processes are a major concern. Once valuable materials are taken extracted, slurry sediment plumes are sometimes pumped back into the sea. That can harm filter feeding species like corals and sponges, and could smother or otherwise interfere with some creatures.