Challenging Deep-Sea Mining

Mining companies are now exploring potential deep-sea sites using advanced robotics. They are working hard to convince politicians and the public of the potential benefits of deep-sea mining, downplaying the effects on the ocean and those who depend upon it. A few countries actively support exploration because they believe it may bring them economic benefits.

But opposition from scientists, coastal communities and many civil society organizations is growing. They say the impacts are poorly understood and the risks  unacceptable. They are also asking questions about the effectiveness of the international body that is supposed to be protecting the deep sea in the international areas of the ocean for the benefit of humankind.

There is growing support for a moratorium (official delay) on deep-sea mining to allow time to gather more scientific information on deep-sea ecosystems and the potential impact of mining. 

The cause is being backed by many leading scientific and public figures, including Sir David Attenborough, who said: 

Photo Credit: NOAA

The rush to mine this pristine and unexplored environment risks creating terrible impacts that cannot be reversed. We need to be guided by science when faced with decisions of such great environmental consequence.

Our call to action

The DSCC is calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. We want the process of issuing exploration and exploitation contracts and the adoption of any regulations paused until: 

  • The environmental, social and economic risks are comprehensively understood;
  • It is clear that deep-sea mining can be managed in a way that protects the marine environment and prevents biodiversity loss, habitat degradation and species extinctions;
  • Where relevant, there is a framework to ensure informed consent from Indigenous peoples and communities that might be affected;
  • Alternative sources of the metals have been fully explored, along with the potential to meet demand through economies becoming more resource-efficient; 
  • There has been public consultation and evidence of clear public support for deep-sea mining;
  • The International Seabed Authority, which regulates human seabed activity, has been reformed to ensure that the decisions it makes are transparent, accountable, inclusive and environmentally responsible.

Is it necessary?

Companies and some governments say that we need to mine metals from the deep so that we can move to cleaner energy technologies. But this isn’t true. A 2016 report by the Institute for Sustainable Futures concluded that needs can be met without mining the deep sea – even under the most ambitious scenario, a 100% renewable energy economy globally by 2050. 

Rather than investing large sums of public and private sector money to extract metals from the deep ocean, we should be concentrating on reforming terrestrial mining practices, choosing materials with least environmental impact, developing the technology and systems for reducing the use of raw materials, improving recycling and transitioning to a circular economy. 

This view falls in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (see SDG 12 and SDG 14) which call for ocean conservation, improved resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production, and for a transformational economy to promote economic growth.