This July saw the 21st session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Jamaica, where the pressing issue of how to regulate deep sea mining dominated the agenda. Seas At Risk joined other NGOs in calling for alternatives to this potentially damaging activity.

TheISA, which bases its work on the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has 167 members and is the only authority responsible for management of the international sea floor. As such it has been mandated to develop exploitation regulations for those wishing to extract minerals from the seabed. No such international regulations exist currently, despite the fact that over 1,000,000 km2 worth of seabed have already been licenced for exploration, and commercial operations are due to begin off the coast of Papua New Guinea as early as 2017.

Deep sea ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to disturbance, as recognised by multiple UN resolutions calling for its protection. Earlier in the month, a number of scientists published a policy paper in Science magazine calling for a temporary halt to new licencing until more can be ascertained about the effects, while over 700,000 citizens, as well as Seas At Risk, signed a petition calling for a moratorium.

In advance of the meeting, Seas At Risk fed into a position statement from the Deep Seas Conservation Coalition (DSCC, of which SAR is a steering committee member), the leading international NGO working on the issue of deep sea environmental protection. The statement stressed the need to fully consider alternatives deepsea mining, such as a truly circular economy incorporating recycling, more efficient resource usage and reuse. Before any kind of deep sea mining does occur, there must be a robust set of regulations that include:

  • Clear conservation and management objectives;
  • Transparent and enforceable procedures including access to information, public participation, and review procedures;
  • Requirements based on the precautionary and ecosystem approaches and the polluter pays principle;
  • Publicly available, comprehensive, prior environmental impact assessments.

The ISA meeting reviewed the system of regional strategic environment management plans, focusing particularly on the Clarion Clipperton Zone plan, and pushed for similar ones for the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Atlantic Basin areas. The session also identified the areas which a regulation for deep sea mining would need to address. ISA announced its intention to review its own internal working methods, so as to encourage greater stakeholder involvement in the future. This principle was accepted and a new consultation strategy is to be drafted that will aim to increase much-needed transparency and dialogue.

Seas At Risk will continue to work with the DSCC to push for a precautionary approach to deepsea mining internationally, as well as make the link to the ongoing circular economy debate in the EU.

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