vegetation on the seabed floor

Project

Seabed Mining Project

The cold, dark waters of the deep sea once were thought to be largely void of life, but scientists now know that the opposite is true.

Underwater mountain chains teem with fish, corals, and other fauna and flora. Hydrothermal vents gush mineral-rich waters that support communities of deep-sea organisms. Unusual animals, many of which have yet to be identified, roam these surreal landscapes.

But the deep ocean faces threats as governments and companies position themselves to mine mineral deposits beneath the deep-sea bed, more than half of which lies beyond national jurisdiction. History suggests that unregulated exploitation of this environment could have disastrous impacts. Many deep-sea organisms are extremely slow-growing and may take centuries to recover from damage, if they come back at all. 

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), established in 1994 under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, is developing rules for seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Pew is working internationally and with the ISA to identify sensitive areas for protection from mining. Well-regulated mining can occur in some areas of the high seas, but it is critical that the ISA adopt strong, science-based rules that balance that activity with conservation of biodiversity in the deep ocean.

Project goals
  • To ensure that the ISA adopts a mining code for the high seas by 2021 that protects ocean biodiversity through strong and enforceable environmental safeguards.
  • To ensure that the ISA code establishes large, ecologically significant no-mining areas.
vent field
Article

The Code Project Development of Seabed Mining Regulations

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Article

The Code Project Development of Seabed Mining Regulations

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and invested it with the sole power to govern seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Mining on the international ocean floor cannot take place until the ISA approves exploitation regulations, and drafts of those regulations are now under consideration. Final approval is expected in 2020 or 2021. For perhaps the first time in history, a governing body and its member governments have the chance to establish rules for an extractive industry before it begins.

Deep Sea Mining
Deep Sea Mining
Fact Sheet

Deep Sea Mining: The Basics

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Fact Sheet

The deepest parts of the world’s ocean feature ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. They provide habitats for multitudes of species, many yet to be named. In these vast, lightless regions are also found deposits of valuable minerals in concentrations richer than most on land. Deep sea extraction technologies have now developed to the point where exploration of seabed minerals can give way to active exploitation.

Clarion-Clipperton Zone
Clarion-Clipperton Zone
Fact Sheet

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone

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Fact Sheet

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) spans 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) between Hawaii and Mexico, an abyssal plain as wide as the continental United States and punctuated by seamounts. Lying atop the muddy bottom or embedded just beneath it are trillions of potato-size polymetallic nodules. These rocklike deposits contain nickel, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, and other minerals.

Seabed mining
Seabed mining
Fact Sheet

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

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Fact Sheet

The depths of the Atlantic Ocean are home to fascinating geological features and unusual life forms. The MidAtlantic Ridge (MAR) is a massive underwater mountain range, 1,700 to 4,200 meters (1 to 2.6 miles) below sea level, that runs from the Arctic Ocean to the Southern Ocean. It is a hot spot for hydrothermal vents, which provide habitat for unique species that could provide insight into the origins of life on Earth.

Our Work

Deep seabed mining
Deep seabed mining
Podcast

Event Rebroadcast: Deep Seabed Mining and the Environment

Episode 19

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Podcast

The ocean floor is one of the least-explored places in the world. Rich with abundant marine life and mineral deposits, the deep seabed has attracted the interest of a newly forming deep-sea mining industry, which could threaten fragile marine ecosystems. In this episode, we rebroadcast an event at Pew featuring Michael Lodge, secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority, which oversees the seabed that lies beyond national jurisdiction—an area that covers more than half of the world’s ocean floor. Lodge spoke about the future of seabed mining, and the challenges and opportunities around developing rules—informed by science—that could govern this extractive activity while minimizing the environmental damage done to these pristine areas. To learn more, visit pewtrusts.org/afterthefact.