So What Is Deep-Sea Mining?


Deep sea mining is the process of extracting mineral deposits from the deep sea – the area of the ocean below 200m. Some staggering facts about the deep sea:

  1. The deep sea is the biggest habitat on the planet
  2. 99% of the seabed is unexplored
  3. These ancient ecosystems are very fragile and slow forming (e.g. a single polymetallic nodule is said to have taken 15 million years to form) and therefore, these ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance

Why Is This Happening?

The independent science is clear; deep-sea mining is unnecessary and far too big of a risk. However, with mounting interest in the prospects of monetizing our global commons, there is pressure to rush and pass the Mining Code – the exploitation regulations that will allow deep seabed mining to take off on an industrial scale. The ISA has already awarded 30 exploitation licenses, which, if allowed to begin, will be the largest mining operation in history, totaling 1.3 million square km, an area greater than two times the size of France. And that’s just the beginning.

The ISA has increased their annual meetings over the past few years to rush the process of negotiating the Mining Code with a target deadline of July 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, this meeting has been repeatedly pushed back – to October, December, and is now on the books for next month, February 2021. 

“Deep-sea mining companies are lobbying to maximize their profits and could leave nations sponsoring exploration high and dry, burdened with the financial and environmental risks associated with ripping up the seabed”
– Louisa Casson, Greenpeace

There isn’t enough information to mitigate mining impacts or even understand the full breadth of its potential impacts. So, how will the mining regulations have effective environmental guidelines and sufficient standards? In the words of Michael W. Lodge, Secretary-General of the ISA, “Once you have mining, you have monitoring, then you can develop standards, and you can progressively tighten those standards once you have a feedback loop from monitoring your activity.” It is clear that leadership in the ISA is prioritizing the launch of a new global industry and is looking for ways to circumvent rather than prioritize environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, deep seabed mining is shaping up to be the same old story of other extractive industries: few are likely to see the benefits, and the external costs will lie squarely on people and the planet. 

What Are The Environmental Costs?

Deep sea mining will cause serious, irreparable harm to the communities directly mined and those over substantially larger areas. The plume’s far-reaching effects could cause substantial extinctions throughout the water column and threaten ecosystem services. Just one of the many concerning impacts laid out in Fauna & Flora International’s report A Risk and Impact Assessment of Seabed Mining to Marine Ecosystems, categorizes “climate change implications as the oceans ability to cycle carbon is reduced” as a High Risk. Learn more about the environmental risks and impacts of DSM by reading the main report or the executive summary

What Can You Do?

The Oxygen Project is a proud member of The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), an alliance of 80+ international NGOs and environmental organizations banding together to #DefendTheDeep.

Only together can we protect our common heritage – the extraordinarily rich and fragile life of the deep-sea – from destructive deep seabed mining. That’s why we partnered with our friends at the Sustainable Ocean Alliance to write an open letter to the UN, ISA representatives and world leaders, calling for at least a 10-year moratorium on deep seabed mining in line with the UN Decade of Ocean Science. Join us by signing the letter and sharing it with your friends and on social

“Seabed mining is like clearcutting the ocean, the effects will be devastating and irreversible”
– Dr. Sylvia Earle

Eco-Warriors Around the World