As the International Seabed Authority Meets, It’s Time for Us to Protect our Oceans from Untested Mining

Earthjustice is standing alongside a diverse group of nations, conservation organizations, scientists, and Indigenous groups, and urging the ISA to stand strong against corporate mining interests and declare a moratorium on deep seabed mining. 

This week, a little-known international organization called the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is meeting in Kingston, Jamaica to consider the future of deep seabed mining operations. Two years ago, the Pacific Island nation of Nauru triggered a process under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea to potentially grant mining contracts to multinational companies looking to mine the mineral-rich deep seabed.

This is a frightening possibility. We still know very little about the deepest depths of the ocean, and much less about how untested mining technologies could impactsome of the last untouched ecosystems on Earth and how wide those impacts would spread. Earthjustice is standing alongside a diverse group of nations, conservation organizations, scientistsand Indigenous groups to urge the ISA to stand strong against corporate mining interests and declare a moratorium on deep seabed mining.

Why the Interest in Deep Seabed Mining?

Tackling the climate crisis requires us to undertake a major shift in energy production, replacing dirty fossil fuel sources with clean, renewable energy. Clean energy technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and the batteries for electric vehicles are increasing demand for cobalt, copper, and other minerals. The Clarion Clipperton Zone, an expanse of open ocean stretching from the Pacific Coast of Mexico to Hawaiʻi, contains an abundance of mineral-rich nodules littering the deep ocean floor and is the area under contention at this month’s ISA meeting.

As we’ve seen with terrestrial mining, rich multinational mining companies have taken advantage of this moment to position themselves as the only solution to the climate crisis. They’ve turned their eyes to the deep seabed as a rich profit opportunity, despite clear evidence that deep seabed mining cannot be done safely. They’ve unfortunately found a sympathetic voice in the ISA, whose leadership seems poised to grant them open access to our ocean resources.

What are the Potential Impacts of Deep Seabed Mining?

While mining companies are rushing to exploit the deep seabed, we still don’t have much information about the diverse species and ecosystems it contains. Earlier this year, scientists published a new analysis of the Clarion Clipperton Zone and announced the discovery of approximately 5,000 previously unknown species. There’s a whole world below the surface of the ocean that we know almost nothing about, nor how these ecosystems could be disrupted, damaged, or destroyed by untested mining technologies. Furthermore, we don’t know the impacts this will have on other ocean ecosystems and the climate. Without knowing these ecological impacts, we cannot allow reckless mining to move forward.

These impacts on nature cannot be separated from the impacts deep seabed mining would have on people. Indigenous communities of the Pacific Islands have a sacred relationship with the ocean. Sediment plumes from mining operations could drift across thousands of square kilometers of the ocean and cause unknown damage to coral reefs and other species, negatively impacting the cultural traditions of Indigenous Pacific Islander communities and threatening their futures. Earlier this year, Indigenous groups from 34 nations called for a ban on deep seabed mining, and it’s long past time for the ISA to listen to Indigenous voices and take their concerns seriously.

What is Earthjustice Doing to Support a Moratorium on Deep Seabed Mining?

Earthjustice is working with other conservation organizations, Indigenous groups, and policymakers to urge the ISA to implement a moratorium on deep seabed mining to protect ocean biodiversity and Indigenous and coastal communities on the frontlines of potential mining activities. Here’s what we’re doing.

  1. We’re endorsing new legislation in Congress to protect the deep seabed. In July 2023, Representative Ed Case (HI-01) introduced the International Seabed Protection Act and the American Seabed Protection Act, two bills to protect both American and international waters from deep seabed mining. Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. The bills are endorsed by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Ocean Protection Coalition, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Greenpeace USA, Earthworks, Benioff Ocean Science Lab, Blue Climate Initiative, the Ocean Foundation, Marine Conservation Institute, Parley for the Oceans, Oceanic Preservation Society, Inland Ocean Coalition, FutureSwell, Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi, Keiko Conservation, 350Hawaiʻi, Zero Waste Hawaiʻi Island and Greenpeace Hawaiʻi.
  2. We’re urging U.S. State Department officials to take a stronger stance on deep seabed mining. As the ISA meeting begins in Jamaica, we’re joining other environmental and ocean organizations as part of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and sending a letter to the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs calling on the United States to publicly support a deep seabed mining moratorium.
  3. We’re working in Congress and the Biden administration to push for more sustainable ways to meet mineral demand without deep seabed mining. Earthjustice believes that we can build out the clean energy infrastructure of the future with minerals sourced from the highest ethical standards. This includes creating and incentivizing a circular economy based on reducing, reusing, and recycling minerals to reduce the need for virgin materials, while updating our mining laws and regulations to ensure that mining operations in the United States adhere to strong standards that protect people, the environment, and special places. Implementing these policy changes would ensure we could meet our mineral demand without having to open fragile deep-sea ecosystems to mining operations.

Based in Washington, D.C., Addie is the legislative director for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.