vegetation on the seabed floor

Project

Seabed Mining Project

Once, the cold, dark waters of the deep sea 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. Strange creatures, 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 seabed, 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 the 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.
ANALYSIS
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Deep-Sea Mining Regulator Needs Muscle and Accountability

Stakeholders urge more capacity, greater transparency
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Deep-Sea Mining Regulator Needs Muscle and Accountability

Stakeholders urge more capacity, greater transparency
Precautions should be taken by the International Seabed Authority to minimize environmental damage from deep-sea mining.
Precautions should be taken by the International Seabed Authority to minimize environmental damage from deep-sea mining.
Fact Sheet

Precautionary Approach Needed for Deep-Sea Mining

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Fact Sheet

Over the past half-century, ocean scientists have begun to describe the least-known places on Earth: the deep realms of the international seabed. Aided by new technologies, the pace of the seabed inventory has accelerated in recent years.

The international seabed contains rich mineral deposits
The international seabed contains rich mineral deposits
Article

Pew’s Seabed Mining Project

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Article

The ocean covers about 70 percent of the world’s surface, with more than half of that water beyond the jurisdiction of any nation. This vast region and the waters within it are known as the high seas. They belong to everyone and to no one. At their bottom lies the international seabed. Found there are marine forms similar to those on land: mountains, hills, plains, canyons, and volcanoes, all amid ecosystems barely charted by science.

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.