Deep-sea mining (DSM) may become a significant stressor on the marine environment. The DSM industry should demonstrate transparently its commitment to preventing serious harm to the environment by complying with legal requirements, using environmental good practice, and minimizing environmental impacts. Here existing environmental management approaches relevant to DSM that can be used to improve performance are identified and detailed. DSM is still predominantly in the planning stage and will face some unique challenges but there is considerable environmental management experience in existing related industries. International good practice has been suggested for DSM by bodies such as the Pacific Community and the International Marine Minerals Society. The inherent uncertainty in DSM presents challenges, but it can be addressed by collection of environmental information, area-based/spatial management, the precautionary approach and adaptive management. Tools exist for regional and strategic management, which have already begun to be introduced by the International Seabed Authority, for example in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Project specific environmental management, through environmental impact assessment, baseline assessment, monitoring, mitigation and environmental management planning, will be critical to identify and reduce potential impacts. In addition, extractive companies’ internal management may be optimised to improve performance by emphasising sustainability at a high level in the company, improving transparency and reporting and introducing environmental management systems. The DSM industry and its regulators have the potential to select and optimize recognised and documented effective practices and adapt them, greatly improving the environmental performance of this new industry.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important process for evaluating the effects of development, and to assist decisions to effectively manage potential deep-sea mining (DSM). However, although EIA is a widely used and accepted approach, there has been considerable debate over its effectiveness. In this paper, we summarise some of the key problems raised by previous EIA reviews, as well as examining several EIAs carried out in recent years for DSM, and highlight issues identified by management agencies. Scientific shortcomings are discussed, and recommendations provided on ways to improve performance. These include inadequate baseline data, insufficient detail of the mining operation, insufficient synthesis of data and the ecosystem approach, poor assessment and consideration of uncertainty, inadequate assessment of indirect impacts, inadequate treatment of cumulative impacts, insufficient risk assessment, and consideration of linkages between EIA and other management plans. The focus of the paper is on scientific limitations, but we also consider some aspects of their application to elements of process and policy.
Mining impacts will affect local populations to different degrees. Impacts range from removal of habitats and possible energy sources to pollution and smaller-scale alterations in local habitats that, depending on the degree of disturbance, can lead to extinction of local communities. While there is a shortage or even lack of studies investigating impacts that resemble those caused by actual mining activity, the information available on the potential long-lasting impacts of seabed mining emphasise the need for effective environmental management plans. These plans should include efforts to mitigate deep-sea mining impact such as avoidance, minimisation and potentially restoration actions, to maintain or encourage reinstatement of a resilient ecosystem. A wide range of mitigation and restoration actions for deep-sea ecosystems at risk were addressed. From an ecological point of view, the designation of set-aside areas (refuges) is of utmost importance as it appears to be the most comprehensive and precautionary approach, both for well-known and lesser studied areas. Other actions range from the deployment of artificial substrates to enhance faunal colonisation and survival to habitat recreation, artificial eutrophication, but also spatial and temporal management of mining operations, as well as optimising mining machine construction to minimise plume size on the sea floor, toxicity of the return plume and sediment compression. No single action will suffice to allow an ecosystem to recover, instead combined mitigation/restoration actions need to be considered, which will depend on the specific characteristics of the different mining habitats and the resources hosted (polymetallic sulphides, polymetallic nodules and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts). However, there is a lack of practical experience regarding mitigation and restoration actions following mining impacts, which severely hamper their predictability and estimation of their possible effect and success. We propose an extensive list of actions that could be considered as recommendations for best environmental practice. The list is not restricted and, depending on the characteristics of the site, additional actions can be considered. For all actions presented here, further research is necessary to fully encompass their potential and contribution to possible mitigation or restoration of the ecosystem.
Commercial seabed mining seems imminent, highlighting the urgent need for coherent, effective policy to safeguard the marine environment. Reconciling seabed mining with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be difficult because minerals extraction will have irreversible consequences that could lead to the loss of habitats, species and ecosystems services. A dialog needs to take place around social, cultural, environmental and economic costs and benefits. Governance of human interactions with the seabed is fragmented and lacks transparency, with a heavy focus on facilitating exploitation rather than ensuring protection. In the light of high uncertainties and high stakes, we present a critical review of proposed policy options for the regulation of seabed mining activities, recommend actions to improve seabed governance and outline the alternatives to mining fragile deep-sea ecosystems.
This paper aims to discuss Chinese legislation in the exploration of marine mineral resources and its adoption in the Arctic Ocean. The journey commences by providing comments on the ‘Law of the People's Republic of China on the Exploration and Development of Resources in the Deep Seabed Area’ and to explore Chinese domestic legislation regulating Chinese enterprises' development activities in the Arctic area. Attention also pays to legislation regulating Chinese and foreign enterprises in the exploitation of mineral resources in China's continental shelf with special concern toward the protection of ecological environment. This paper concludes by suggesting that there is a need to further improve Chinese domestic legislation and draw on advanced legislative experience from various States and international law, in order to provide strong domestic legal protection for exploitation activities.
The report summarises the current scientific, technical and legal challenges of deep sea mining debated by international and Portuguese experts and stakeholders at a conference held in Porto, Portugal, on 16th April 2018. The discussions focused on the different obstacles to deep sea mining and how to address them, including recommendations for future consideration. The prospect of deep sea mining in Portugal received particular attention.
Deep seabed mining is a major new intersection of human enterprise and deep-ocean ecosystems. This paper reviews the concept and process for a holistic approach to planning environmental management in the deep sea based on Strategic Environmental Goals and Objectives. Strategic planning around the environment can establish a vision for the future condition of the ocean floor for which the International Seabed Authority (ISA) can draw on a wealth of precedents and experience. By engaging stakeholders and applying current knowledge of deep ecosystems, the ISA can build meaningful strategic environmental goals and objectives that give guidance to its own operation and those of its contractors. This framework builds understanding of the organization’s aspirations at global, regional and contractor levels. Herein, some examples are suggested, but we focus on the process. To operationalize these goals and objectives, progress must be measurable; thus, targets are set, reports are assessed, and appropriate responses are awarded. Many management tools and actions are applicable for achieving environmental goals. To date, the ISA has considered marine spatial planning largely around the current exploration contract blocks. Other elements of environmental management, including the requirements for baseline studies, impact assessment, post-impact monitoring and the treatment of harmful effects and serious harm need to be implemented to support well-defined environmental goals and objectives. We suggest that this planning be executed for scales larger than individual blocks, through a Strategic Environmental Management Plan, to ensure sustainable use of ocean resources across the Area.
Development of guidance for environmental management of the deep-sea mining industry is important as contractors plan to move from exploration to exploitation activities. Two priorities for environmental management are monitoring and mitigating the impacts and effects of activities. International regulation of deep-sea mining activities stipulates the creation of two types of zones for local monitoring within a claim, impact reference zones (IRZ) and preservation reference zones (PRZ). The approach used for allocating and assessing these zones will affect what impacts can be measured, and hence taken into account and managed. This paper recommends key considerations for establishing these reference zones for polymetallic nodule mining. We recommend that zones should be suitably large (Recommendation 1) and have sufficient separation (R2) to allow for repeat monitoring of representative impacted and control sites. Zones should be objectively defined following best-practice and statistically robust approaches (R3). This will include the designation of multiple PRZ and IRZ (R4) for each claim. PRZs should be representative of the mined area, and thus should contain high -quality resource (R5) but PRZs in other habitats could also be valuable (R6). Sediment plumes will influence design of PRZ and may need additional IRZ to monitor their effects (R7), which may extend beyond the boundaries of a claim (R8). The impacts of other expected changes should be taken into account (R9). Sharing PRZ design, placement, and monitoring could be considered amongst adjacent claims (R10). Monitoring should be independently verified to enhance public trust and stakeholder support (R11).
The presence of scientific uncertainty in relation to the ecological impacts of deep seabed mining has led to increased interest in the use of adaptive management as part of the environmental regulatory structure for the deep seabed mineral exploitation regime. This paper assesses the prospects for using adaptive management as part of the deep seabed mining regulatory framework with a specific focus on the legal and institutional dimensions of the regime. In this regard, this paper argues that adaptive management is likely to play a crucial role in the deep seabed mining regime owing to the current uncertain state of knowledge respecting the deep seabed environmental well as the ambiguity surrounding the standards respecting the acceptable levels of harm associated with deep seabed mining. However, despite the high demand for adaptive management, institutional arrangements, such as the need for the ISA to meet its due diligence obligations and strong security of tenure protections, may constrain the ISA in implementing adaptive management approaches. More broadly, this paper seeks to contribute to our understanding of the unique legal nature of the ISA as a front line resource regulator operating within the system of international law.
Mineral extraction from the seabed has experienced a recent surge of interest from both the mining industry and marine scientists. While improved methods of geological investigation have enabled the mapping of new seafloor mineral reserves, the ecological impacts of mining in both the deep sea and the shallow seabed are poorly known. This paper presents a synthesis of the empirical evidence from experimental seabed mining and parallel industries to infer the effects of seabed mineral extraction on marine ecosystems, focusing on polymetallic nodules and ferromanganese concretions. We use a problem-structuring framework to evaluate causal relationships between pressures caused by nodule extraction and the associated changes in marine ecosystems. To ensure that the rationale behind impact assessments is clear, we propose that future impact assessments use pressure-specific expert elicitation. We further discuss integrating ecosystem services in the impact assessments and the implications of current methods for environmental risk assessments.