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Deep sea mining

Published: 13th Jul, 2019

According to a report by Greenpeace, deep sea mining is threatening international waters. It also questions the role of International Seabed Authority’s (ISA).


According to a report by Greenpeace, deep sea mining is threatening international waters. It also questions the role of International Seabed Authority’s (ISA).


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  • Only 1% of international waters are properly protected from multiple industrial activities in the absence of a global ocean treaty.
  • This report stressed on the fact that if deep sea mining continues on a large scale without any proper protection,it can ruin species and ecosystem.
  • If the ecosystem under the sea is devastated, it is not clear if it can be restored. The report cited examples of cold water coral reefs devastated by bottom trawling in the 1960s.

Threats from deep sea mining

  • Deep sea mining causes environmental harm, both at the mine sites and beyond.
  • It undermines progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns of energy and resources, as well as SDG 14, which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
  • Greenpeace accused ISA of lobbying for a weaker Global Ocean Treaty.
  • Deep sea mining is regulated by the ISA, but ISA is unable to conserve deep sea environments from cumulative stresses or protect marine life in the broader ocean. This highlights the need for governments to agree a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the UN, to put protection at the heart of managing international waters.
  • The ISA has never yet turned down a licence application, even to explore places of high ecological significance like the Lost City near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which has been identified as an ecologically important area under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and which meets criteria for UNESCO World Heritage status.
  • The ISA has consistently sided with development of deep sea mining over marine protection, and is used by mining companies seeking to exploit the seabed as an avenue to gain diplomatic support from governments.

International Seabed Authority (ISA)

  • The ISA was established in 1982 by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) and is an autonomous intergovernmental body with 167 members. The ISA is responsible for the mineral resources and the marine environment in the Area.
  • The ISA considers applications for exploration and exploitation of deep sea resources from contractors, assesses environmental impact assessments and supervises mining activities in the ‘Area’.
  • It has granted 29 exploration contracts for industrial-level mining of poly-metallic nodules, sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.
  • These contracts are spread over around a million square kilometres of the international seabed. Countries sponsoring these activities include United Kingdom, China, France, Belgium, India, Germany and Russia.


  • It is a non-profit organisation, with a presence in 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. To maintain its independence, it does not accept donations from governments or corporations but relies on contributions from individual supporters and foundation grants.
  • It has been campaigning against environmental degradation since 1971 when a small boat of volunteers and journalists sailed into Amchitka, an area north of Alaska where the US Government was conducting underground nuclear tests.
  • In pursuing its mission, it has no permanent allies or enemies. It promotes open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices.
  • It has a general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.


  • A network of marine reserves covering at least 30% of the world’s oceans, and where all extractive activity is prohibited, should be established by 2030.
  • Governments should agree to a strong global ocean treaty in 2020 (it is under negotiation at the UN) that allows for these reserves, and create rules and standards to protect marine life from mining.

Three forms of Deep Sea Mining have attracted the attention of companies – the mining of cobalt crusts (CRC), poly-metallic nodules, and deposits of seafloor massive sulphides (SMS) also known as Poly-metallic Sulphides.

International developments

  • Canadian mining company Nautilus Minerals became the first to bring off the deep sea mining (DSM) operation. The Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea has been marked out as the testing ground. It is also carrying out exploration activities for Tonga, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
  • Sudan and Saudi Arabia are working together to start underwater mining in the Red Sea, believed to have one of the largest polymetallic sulphide deposits in the world.
  • The U.S., as a non-party to UNCLOS and ISA, has issued exploration leases on its own to Ocean Minerals Company (OMCO), a subsidiary of defence contractor Lockheed Martin, to explore for nodules in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ)
  • China and South Korea has held contracts to explore SMS deposits in international waters of the Indian Ocean. Russia and France hold exploration leases on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
  • In May 2018, 7th Annual Deep Sea mining Summit was held in London to discuss the economic landscape, growth and prospects of deep sea mining. The 8th Annual Asia- Pacific Deep sea mining summit will take place in November 2018.



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