Key Issue

Deep Sea Mining

Humans have extracted minerals and petroleum from the earth for generations. The time has come to weigh the risks and benefits and alternatives to proceeding to mine the deep seabed.

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Deep Sea Mining

Statement of issues

Humans have extracted minerals and petroleum from the earth for generations.

Our understanding of the impact of terrestrial extraction and mining on local biospheres has improved significantly and the costs of repairing any damaged caused has started to be factored into the decision to proceed or not.

The technology for doing so continues to develop and makes it possible to reach deposits in places never before exploited.


Our understanding of the biospheres in the deep ocean remains rudimentary at best.

The time has come to weigh the risks and benefits and alternatives to proceeding to mine the deep seabed.

The deep-sea floor – that part of the ocean averaging a depth of 4 km (2.5 miles) – covers half of the planet.

Despite its significance, the abyss remains poorly explored and it is often said we know more about the dark side of the moon. True or not, there is no question the deep sea remains poorly understood, not for lack of interest, but because of the sheer difficulty and expense involved in getting there. We no longer have the capacity to explore its deepest reaches as the vehicles that once brought us there are no longer functional.

Because of these difficulties, the deep sea has remained largely undisturbed. The deep sea floor has not been affected by human activity the way shallower areas have in our search for oil and gas, or even more mundane materials like sand and gravel.  However, the deep sea contains minerals, some of them in in unique or highly enriched concentrations, and some of them in huge quantities, and hence our need to understand the implications of harvesting these.

The first attempts to mine these deposits were hindered by legal uncertainties and technical constraints, along with financial projections that did not justify the enormous investments required.  Today, the legal uncertainties have been resolved, marine mining technology has advanced rapidly, and every rise in metal prices increases the commercial appeal of the deep sea.  But while the technological and commercial challenges are being met, little is known about the environmental implications.  It is easy enough to estimate the size of the deposits but figuring out how removing them would affect the deep sea, and even the ocean as a whole, remains largely unknown.

Humanity has an obligation to contemplate environmental harm before it has been inflicted.  We have a unique chance to determine the environmental effects of deep sea mining prior to authorizing it.  We owe it not only to ourselves, but to all the generations that follow ours.

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U.n. Agency AMDC African Minerals Development Centre Ethiopia Visit Website
Academic - Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences United States Visit Website
Legal And Policy COLP Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia School of Law United States Visit Website
Industry CRIRSCO Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards Australia Visit Website
Conservation - Conservation Intnernational United States Visit Website
U.n. Agency CBD Convention on Biological Diversity Canada Visit Website
Conservation DOSI Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative United Kingdom Visit Website
Conservation DSCC Netherlands Visit Website
Academic IBRC Durham University’s International Borders Research Centre United Kingdom Visit Website
Press ENB Earth Negotiations Bulletin Canada Visit Website
Conservation - Fish Reef Project United States Visit Website
Conservation - Gallifrey Foundation Switzerland Visit Website
Academic - Visit Website
Conservation - Global Ocean Trust Germany Visit Website
Conservation - Greenpeace International Netherlands Visit Website
Academic - Visit Website
Academic IASS Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Germany Visit Website
Conservation IOI Intenational Ocean Institute  Malta Visit Website
Academic - Interidge France Visit Website
U.n. Agency ITLOS Interional Tribunal for the Law of the Sea United Nations Visit Website
Industry IADC International Association of Drilling Contractors United States Visit Website
Industry ICPC International Cable Protection Committee  United Kingdom Visit Website
Press IISD International Institute for Sustainable Development – Reporting Services (IISD-RS) (publishes the Earth Negotiations Bulletin) United States Visit Website
Industry IMMS International Marine Minerals Society  United States Visit Website
U.n. Agency IMO International Maritime Organization United Kingdom Visit Website
Academic MIT International Policy Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States Visit Website
U.n. Agency ISA International Seabed Authority United Nations Visit Website
Conservation IUCN Switzerland Visit Website
U.n. Agency LTC Legal and Technical Commission of the ISA United Nations Visit Website
Economics - Middlebury Institute of International Studies Center for the Blue Economy United States Visit Website
Economics - Nekton United Kingdom Visit Website
Industry IDUM nternational Dialogue on Underwater Munitions Canada Visit Website
Conservation - Oceans Unite United Kingdom Visit Website
Conservation - Oceans United United Kingdom Visit Website
Conservation - Sargasso Sea Commission United States Visit Website
Conservation STHSC Save the High Seas Coalition Netherlands Visit Website
Academic SJTU Shanghai Jiao Tong University Center for Polar and Deep Ocean Development China Visit Website
Conservation - The Pew Charitable Trusts United States Visit Website
Conservation TBA Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Austria Visit Website
U.n. Agency LOS UN Division for Oceans and Law of the Sea   United Nations Visit Website
Industry WOC World Oceans Council France Visit Website
Conservation WWF World Wildlife Fund International Switzerland Visit Website
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