24 July 2018
IUCN Calls for Knowledge and Caution as ISA Meets
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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At the 24th session of the International Seabed Authority, IUCN launched a report that examines deep seabed mining and its potential environmental and societal impacts.

The report cautions against adopting mining regulations without developing additional knowledge of the deep sea.

16 July 2018: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a report on deep sea mining and its impacts. IUCN launched the report at the 24th session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is taking place from 2-27 July in Kingston, Jamaica.

The report titled, ‘Deep seabed mining: a rising environmental challenge,’ provides an introduction to the deep sea, including its ecosystems and biodiversity, and deep-sea mineral extraction, such as the legal framework for such extraction and the financial and societal costs of deep seabed mining and the economic and societal benefits of such mining. Potential impacts of deep sea mining range from stirring up fine seafloor sediments, which would cloud the water and smother animals, to physical damage from machines on the ocean floor, an impact that IUCN compares to clearcutting a forest. Other impacts include light, noise and chemical pollution from mining equipment and vessels, and from leaks and spills.

According to the report, the deep sea, or the area of the ocean below 200 meters, is “understudied and poorly understood.” Consequently, the report recommends improving this understanding through baseline studies on ecosystem function and regeneration, connectivity between deep sea species and communities outside proposed mining areas, and analysis on how these systems change in response to pressures. The report further recommends adoption of a regulatory framework and high-quality environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and mitigation strategies to avoid irreversible harm to the marine environment.

Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme Director, Carl Gustaf Lundin, explained that the world’s current understanding of the deep sea “does not allow us to effectively protect marine life from mining operations.” Despite this limited knowledge, he warned that “exploration contracts are being granted even for those areas that host highly unique species” and that exploitation of minerals could destroy deep-sea life. IUCN has called for “stringent precautionary measures to protect the marine environment,” stressing there is a limited time window to ensure that the draft regulations take into account the potential impacts of mining operations on the deep sea.

ISA has a mandate to promote development of deep-sea minerals in a way that does not harm the environment. As of May 2018, the ISA issued 29 contracts for deep sea exploration. [IUCN Press Release] [Report Webpage] [ISA Session Website] [IISD RS Coverage of ISA 24]

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