Deep Sea Mining

Context:  The International Seabed Authority is preparing to resume negotiations that could open the international seabed for mining, including for materials critical for the green energy transition. About Deep Sea Mining:
  • Deep sea mining is an emerging industry that aims to extract minerals from the ocean’s surface, including manganese nodules, seafloor massive sulphides, and cobalt crusts.
  • These nodules, deposits and crusts contain materials, such as nickel, rare earths, cobalt and more, that are needed for batteries and other materials used in tapping renewable energy and also for everyday technology like cellphones and computers.
  • Three types of mining:
    1. Taking deposit-rich polymetallic nodules off the ocean floor
    2. Mining massive seafloor sulphide deposits
    3. Stripping cobalt crusts from rock.
  • Some companies are looking to vacuum materials from seafloor using massive pumps. Others are developing artificial intelligence-based technology that would teach deep sea robots how to pluck nodules from the floor.
Regulation of Deep Sea Mining
  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is currently accepting mining permit applications from companies and countries.
  • States should apply to ISA regardless of whether or not they have signed or ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
  • 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 (UNCLOS).
Environmental Concerns
  • Threat to ecosystem: Only a small part of the deep seabed has been explored and conservationists worry that ecosystems will be damaged by mining, especially without any environmental protocols.
  • Associated damages: Noise, vibration and light pollution, as well as possible leaks and spills of fuels and other chemicals used in the mining process.
  • Harm to Marine Life: Once valuable materials are extracted, slurry sediment plumes are sometimes pumped back into the sea. That can harm filter feeding species like corals and sponges, etc.
  • Mining applications need to go through a consideration process, and environmental impact assessments must be conducted before deep sea mining can take place.
  • Companies like Google, Samsung, BMW, and others have pledged to avoid using minerals sourced from the oceans, supporting the World Wildlife Fund’s call for responsible sourcing.
Additional Information  About UNCLOS
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted in 1982.
  • It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.
  • The Convention also provides the framework for further development of specific areas of the law of the sea.
  • Under the treaty,
    1. The seabed and its mineral resources are considered the “common heritage of mankind”
    2. They 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.
International Seabed Authority
  • International Seabed Authority (ISA), an international organisation was established in 1994.
  • Headquarters: Kingston, Jamaica.
  • Function:
    1. To regulate mining and related activities in the international seabed beyond national jurisdiction, an area that includes most of the world’s oceans.
    2. To ensure the marine environment is protected from any harmful effects which may arise from mining activities
  • The ISA came into existence upon the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
 News Source: Indian Express 

Leave a Comment