UN allows deep-sea mining applications, weeks after high seas agreement

Applications for deep-sea mining to be accepted in July
Greenpeace activists from New Zealand and Mexico confront the deep sea mining vessel Hidden Gem, commissioned by Canadian miner The Metals Company, as it returned to port from eight weeks of test mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone between Mexico and Hawaii, Mexico November 16, 2022, credit: Reuters/Gustavo Graf

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has announced that it will start accepting applications for deep-sea mining from July. 

ISA is an intergovernmental organization that operates under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ISA has 168 member states and is headquartered in Jamaica. Its decision to accept applications for deep-sea mining comes only a few weeks after the UN agreed to protect the high seas.

The decision followed a two-week debate on the standards for this new and controversial practice, which will extract cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese from potato-sized rocks known as polymetallic nodules, located on the ocean floor at depths of 4 to 6 km.

Environmentalists and scientists are concerned that deep-sea mining will have significant negative impacts on marine life. Marine animal habitats will be destroyed, and the noise and disturbance caused by mining equipment could also cause stress and disruption to marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. 

Some specific species, such as deep-sea corals, are particularly vulnerable to damage from mining activities, as they grow slowly and are often found in areas where the nodules are concentrated. 

Deep-sea mining will be done in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ), an area located in the North Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and Mexico. It is known for its abundant reserves of polymetallic nodules with cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese – which are used in batteries.

Environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, have raised concerns about the impact of deep-sea mining on whales and other wildlife. Louisa Casson of Greenpeace called the decision “a wasted opportunity to send a clear signal that the era of ocean destruction is over.”

Canadian-based mining company The Metals Company (TMC) is one of the most influential voices advocating deep sea mining in the Clarion Clipperton Zone. TMC has made a deal with Glencore Plc, one of the world’s largest mining and commodity trading companies.

   

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