Skip to content

The deep sea is the largest biome on Earth. This mysterious and hugely varied place makes up 90% of the marine environment and plays a vital role in regulating our planetary systems. However, the deep sea – and our entire planet – is threatened by the potential commencement of deep-sea mining.

Learn more below.

Deep-sea mining: an introduction

The deep sea is the largest biome on Earth. It makes up 90% of the marine environment and plays a vital role in regulating our planetary systems, not least by absorbing and storing vast quantities of the carbon dioxide emitted into the air by human activity.

Deep-sea mining: the ecosystems at risk and potential impacts

Fragile deep-sea ecosystems are already faced with numerous stressors, including pollution, climate change, and extractive activities (Pinheiro et al., 2023). Deep-sea mining is emerging as a new threat to our ocean as scientists warn of potentially inevitable widespread and permanent damage to ecosystems and biodiversity (Deep-sea mining science statement, 2023).

Deep-sea mining: growing support for a moratorium

Concerns over the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining have led to increasing support for a moratorium. Opposition to deep-sea mining continues to grow among a wide array of actors, including States, Parliamentarians, local governments, scientists, the finance sector, the automotive and tech industries, Indigenous leaders and communities, fishers, and youth.

Deep-sea mining: where are they seeking to mine first?

Much of the deep ocean floor is composed of vast, flat, sediment- covered areas called abyssal plains, full of biodiversity, much still to be discovered by humankind. Extensive deposits of manganese or polymetallic nodules have been found on the abyssal plains of the Eastern Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii.

Deep-sea mining: International Commitments

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes the legal framework for deep-sea mining related activities in the international area of the ocean. It gives the International Seabed Authority responsibility for taking measures “to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from the harmful effects” of deep-sea mining (Article 145).

Deep-sea mining: What do we stand to lose?

If the member nations of the International Seabed Authority were to permit deep-sea mining, humanity would stand to lose far more than we could gain.

The International Seabed Authority: Significant Concerns

The International Seabed Authority is the international body tasked with making decisions about any mining activities in the “Area”1 - the seabed of the world’s ocean that lies beyond national jurisdiction. Yet the International Seabed Authority’s institutional structure and decision-making processes remain inappropriate for a modern multilateral institution. A thorough review leading to key institutional reforms is necessary to ensure that Member States and all of humankind can have full confidence in International Seabed Authority decisions.

Deep-sea mining: Why deep-sea minerals are not needed

Deposits of minerals such as copper, manganese, cobalt and nickel have been found in the deep sea, although to date, none have been commercially extracted from these fragile environments. Until recently, these minerals were used to build the first generation of batteries for renewable technologies, including electric vehicle batteries, however, next generation batteries do not rely on minerals found in the deep sea. Still, there is an industrial lobby to greenwash the extractive industry and launch deep-sea mining as necessary for the green transition.