Navigating the Abyss: The World’s Missed Deadline for Crafting Deep-Sea Mining Rules


Amidst growing interest in exploiting the deep sea for essential battery materials such as nickel, cobalt, and copper, concerns are mounting over the lack of regulations to protect mysterious ocean ecosystems. The island nation of Nauru’s announcement of sponsoring deep-sea mining for battery materials has prompted scientists and conservationists to call for regulations to minimize potential ecological damage. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), tasked with crafting regulations for deep-sea mining, faces a deadline of July 2023, which it is expected to miss. After this deadline, companies can formally apply for permits to mine the deep sea. However, many argue that we lack sufficient knowledge about the deep-sea environment to create effective regulations.

Proponents of deep-sea mining argue that it can provide a responsible source of key battery materials, helping avoid the human rights issues associated with land-based supply chains. Yet, research indicates potential harm to marine life, with noise pollution and sediment plumes being among the concerns. The noise alone could be louder than a rock concert, and mining could irreversibly damage marine ecosystems. The deep-sea mining code that the ISA is tasked with creating aims to balance resource access with marine environment protection. While mining companies, such as The Metals Company, which is sponsored by Nauru, claim that the code will ensure responsible resource use, a race to mine the deep sea could worsen land-based mining competition. It is unclear when the ISA will finalize regulations, and discussions on acceptable harm levels are ongoing.

Over a dozen nations have called for a moratorium or pause on deep-sea mining, with Switzerland recently joining the call. A draft resolution will be discussed in July, potentially preventing mining projects until regulations are established. However, approval by two-thirds of ISA Assembly members is required, making the political landscape uncertain. The debate over deep-sea mining raises questions about the balance between resource extraction, conservation, and environmental protection in unexplored ocean depths.

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