Is Deep Sea Mining A Threat To The Ocean? ISA’s Climate Action Plan

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The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has invited representatives from all over the world to discuss rules and regulations on deep-sea mining from 10th – 21st July 2023 in Jamaica. Its primary function is to regulate exploration and exploitation of deep seabed minerals found in ‘the Area’, which is defined by the Convention as the seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, that is, beyond the outer limits of the continental shelf.

Existing regulations placed by the ISA state that either the countries implement a moratorium on deep-sea mining so that scientists can continue researching the environmental impacts of this practice, or they issue regulations which would ban it altogether. The current standing reflects that 19 countries have agreed to either ban deep-sea mining or put a moratorium on it. Over 700 scientists from over 40 countries will be coming to Jamaica to study the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining. 

  • 4 of the 21 countries have created moratorium alliances, working together to solve deep-sea mining problems, including Samoa, Fiji, Federal States of Micronesia and Palau. 
  • 3 countries (New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada) have put a moratorium on deep-sea mining, wherein each country will be researching and applying the regulations individually. 
  • 14 countries have put a precautionary pause, temporarily halting all deep-sea mining operations. These countries are Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Panama, Sweden, Ireland, Dominican Republic, Vanuatu, Finland and Portugal. Brazil, Finland and Portugal are the most recent country to commit.
  • France is the only country that has put a complete ban on deep-sea mining. 

No clear assessments of the impacts of deep-sea mining on the environment have been extensively carried out to date.

Global view: Deep sea mining operations

Image Credit: Hein, J., Mizell, K., Koschinsky, A., and Conrad, T.


This image shows the different places where deep-sea mining operations could take place. The mineral deposits of interest are found in three habitats located on the seafloor: the abyssal plains, seamounts, and hydrothermal vents. 

  • blue-coloured dots, also known as polymetallic nodules, are fossilised metals. 
  • yellow spots represent cobalt which has accumulated in our crust. 
  • orange spots are cracks in our crust which allow the sulfur from the core of our planet to escape. 

However, the circled blue dot highlights the highest concentration of these fossilised metals. In this area, companies want to make a deep-sea mining city filled with rigs and structures to help with the extraction of nodules.

DSM is anticipated to impact all levels of the ocean, from waste dumped into the midwater column to the physical mining and churning of the ocean floor. There is also risk from the potentially toxic slurry (slurry = a mixture of dense matter) water dumped into the top of the ocean. The most direct impacts on oceans at mining sites are the destruction of natural landforms and the wildlife they host, compaction of the sea floor, and creation of sediment plumes that disrupt aquatic life. Indirect impacts result from noise, electromagnetic effects, disruption of the larval supply, contamination and fluid flow changes. This would not only impact global fisheries but also reduce humanity’s ability to combat climate change, as well as threaten the lives and livelihoods of islanders and coastal communities.

Potential specific threats to the ocean ecosystems include; 

  • Vacuuming of the nodules. The sucking up nodules involve the destruction of the seabed leading to the potential extinction of specie;
  • Stripping seamounts of the outer layer of ‘crusts’ containing cobalt and other metals destroys habitats including deep-sea sponges and coral ecosystems;
  • Plumes of sediment created during mining stir up the seafloor, possibly spreading tens of thousands of square kilometres beyond the mining sites, disturbing ecosystems and species. 

It is evident, deep-sea mining will critically damage the environment and ecosystems that are – vital for our planet. Today, some seabed mining operations are already taking place within continental shelf areas of nation-states, generally at relatively shallow depths, and with others at advanced stages of planning. While commercial DSM has not started, various companies are now invested in initiating mining. In this context, the legislations set in place by the ISA are critical, with climate activists and environmentalists looking forward to the imposition of further precautions, including bans by more countries. 


Written by Siddhant Pandey, edited by Nicola L. & Anuradha B.