A short breath of relief for the deep sea – but how long will it last?

July 24, 2023

After two weeks of intense negotiations at the headquarters of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica, the ISA Council ended its meeting on the 21st of July with no deep-sea mining code agreed or adopted. Strong leadership by countries opposing deep-sea mining halted efforts to move seabed mining forward. Attention now shifts to the ISA Assembly, meeting from the 24th to the 28th of July, where countries are proposing a discussion on a general ‘pause’ to deep-sea mining for the first time. OceanCare will join other organisations in raising the urgency of preventing the opening of international waters to deep-sea mining and the need to begin negotiating the conditions and duration of a moratorium.

With global momentum against deep-sea mining growing strong, including from governments that have either called for a moratorium, precautionary pause, or a ban, the resumption of the 28th Session of the ISA Council held great expectations.

The Council, comprised of 36 States, met from the 10th to the 21st of July to find agreement on how to deal with the so called “two-year-rule”, triggered in 2021 by the Government of Nauru. The triggering of the rule put significant pressure on governments to finalise and adopt regulations for DSM or to nonetheless consider and “provisionally approve” mining applications after the two-year deadline. This deadline lapsed on the 9th of July.

On Friday evening, 21st of July, the Council meeting ended with compromise decisions largely negotiated behind closed doors. The meeting of the ISA body ended with no deep-sea mining code agreed or adopted. The proponents of mining activities hoped for this July-meeting to be the start of deep-sea mining, but no green light was given.

A growing number of countries, including Costa Rica, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Brazil, have shown strong and courageous political leadership over the past two weeks, resisting efforts to allow the industrialisation of the unknown territory of the deep-sea to move forward.

However, the ISA Council has failed to close the legal loophole that would allow the exploitation of the seabed to begin, triggered by the so called “two-year-rule”. This means that the threat of deep-sea mining continues to remain a possibility, although it would be against the political will of many countries that are dedicated to protecting the common heritage of humankind.

The way to put a stop to the looming threat of DSM, at least for a longer period of time, is by imposing a moratorium. With that, the focus now turns to the ISA’s Assembly, the supreme organ of the ISA. This week, the Assembly, which includes all members to the organisation, is set to meet to discuss a ‘pause’ to deep-sea mining efforts.

Although not much is known about the deep-sea, large-scale exploitation activities would result in severe impacts and – at least to a certain degree – the loss of biodiversity alongside the destruction of some of the least understood ecosystems on earth. OceanCare remains extremely concerned over the irreversible damage by deep-sea mining activities, including for example by the underwater noise pollution arising from such activities.

In order to effectively protect the marine environment more scientific understanding of the impacts of deep-sea mining is needed and effective protection of the environment from harmful effects of such activities must be ensured. OceanCare, as a member of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), will therefore join other organisations in continuing to advocate for the need for preventing the opening of international waters to deep-sea mining at the ISA Assembly negotiations, as well as to advocate for negotiations on the terms of a moratorium.