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.
Pristine coral reefs possess a tremendous potential for contributing to tourism and economic development. This is especially important for Fiji given their tourism economy's reliance on diving and coastal activities. Understanding divers’ perceptions of coral reefs and environmental issues is, therefore, paramount to sustaining the tourism industry. Despite the importance of coral reefs to the Fijian tourism sector, the Fijian Government has granted exploration licenses to mining companies to assess the viability of deep sea mining (DSM) activities in Fiji's seas. There is concern that DSM may negatively impact reef-related tourism due to tourists’ perception that DSM activities degrades Fiji's coral reefs. This study conducts a contingent behaviour survey to explore how tourists’ expectations of DSM will affect their future travel decisions and subsequently influence overall tourism demand in Fiji. Our findings show that divers and snorkelers demonstrate a high willingness to return to Fiji in the future, based on their previous travel experience, but that they would significantly reduce their future visits if DSM was to take place in Fiji. These results contribute to our understanding of the potential trade-offs between DSM and reef-related tourism and give some preliminary estimates of the potential economic consequences of the Fijian Government allowing DSM within their territorial waters.
Deep-sea mining is likely to result in biodiversity loss, and the significance of this to ecosystem function is not known. “Out of kind” biodiversity offsets substituting one ecosystem type (e.g., coral reefs) for another (e.g., abyssal nodule fields) have been proposed to compensate for such loss. Here we consider a goal of no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity and explore the challenges of applying this aim to deep seabed mining, based on the associated mitigation hierarchy (avoid, minimize, remediate). We conclude that the industry cannot at present deliver an outcome of NNL. This results from the vulnerable nature of deep-sea environments to mining impacts, currently limited technological capacity to minimize harm, significant gaps in ecological knowledge, and uncertainties of recovery potential of deep-sea ecosystems. Avoidance and minimization of impacts are therefore the only presently viable means of reducing biodiversity losses from seabed mining. Because of these constraints, when and if deep-sea mining proceeds, it must be approached in a precautionary and step-wise manner to integrate new and developing knowledge. Each step should be subject to explicit environmental management goals, monitoring protocols, and binding standards to avoid serious environmental harm and minimize loss of biodiversity. “Out of kind” measures, an option for compensation currently proposed, cannot replicate biodiversity and ecosystem services lost through mining of the deep seabed and thus cannot be considered true offsets. The ecosystem functions provided by deep-sea biodiversity contribute to a wide range of provisioning services (e.g., the exploitation of fish, energy, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics), play an essential role in regulatory services (e.g., carbon sequestration) and are important culturally. The level of “acceptable” biodiversity loss in the deep sea requires public, transparent, and well-informed consideration, as well as wide agreement. If accepted, further agreement on how to assess residual losses remaining after the robust implementation of the mitigation hierarchy is also imperative. To ameliorate some of the inter-generational inequity caused by mining-associated biodiversity losses, and only after all NNL measures have been used to the fullest extent, potential compensatory actions would need to be focused on measures to improve the knowledge and protection of the deep sea and to demonstrate benefits that will endure for future generations.
Deep-sea tailings disposal (DSTD) and its shallow water counterpart, submarine tailings disposal (STD), are practiced in many areas of the world, whereby mining industries discharge processed mud- and rock-waste slurries (tailings) directly into the marine environment. Pipeline discharges and other land-based sources of marine pollution fall beyond the regulatory scope of the London Convention and the London Protocols (LC/LP). However, guidelines have been developed in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to improve tailings waste management frameworks in which mining companies can operate. DSTD can impact ocean ecosystems in addition to other sources of stress, such as from fishing, pollution, energy extraction, tourism, eutrophication, climate change and, potentially in the future, from deep-seabed mining. Environmental management of DSTD may be most effective when placed in a broader context, drawing expertise, data and lessons from multiple sectors (academia, government, society, industry, and regulators) and engaging with international deep-ocean observing programs, databases and stewardship consortia. Here, the challenges associated with DSTD are identified, along with possible solutions, based on the results of a number of robust scientific studies. Also highlighted are the key issues, trends of improved practice and techniques that could be used if considering DSTD (such as increased precaution if considering submarine canyon locations), likely cumulative impacts, and research needed to address current knowledge gaps.
Rising demand for minerals and metals, including for use in the technology sector, has led to a resurgence of interest in exploration of mineral resources located on the seabed. Such resources, whether seafloor massive (polymetallic) sulfides around hydrothermal vents, cobalt-rich crusts (CRCs) on the flanks of seamounts or fields of manganese (polymetallic) nodules on the abyssal plains, cannot be considered in isolation of the distinctive, in some cases unique, assemblages of marine species associated with the same habitats and structures. In addition to mineral deposits, there is interest in extracting methane from gas hydrates on continental slopes and rises. Many of the regions identified for future seabed mining are already recognized as vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs). Since its inception in 1982, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), charged with regulating human activities on the deep-sea floor beyond the continental shelf, has issued 27 contracts for mineral exploration, encompassing a combined area of more than 1.4 million km2, and continues to develop rules for commercial mining. At the same time, some seabed mining operations are already taking place within continental shelf areas of nation states, generally at relatively shallow depths, and with others at advanced stages of planning. The first commercial enterprise, expected to target mineral-rich sulfides in deeper waters, at depths between 1,500 and 2,000 m on the continental shelf of Papua New Guinea, is scheduled to begin early in 2019. In this review, we explore three broad aspects relating to the exploration and exploitation of seabed mineral resources: (1) the current state of development of such activities in areas both within and beyond national jurisdictions, (2) possible environmental impacts both close to and more distant from mining activities and (3) the uncertainties and gaps in scientific knowledge and understanding which render baseline and impact assessments particularly difficult for the deep sea. We also consider whether there are alternative approaches to the management of existing mineral reserves and resources, which may reduce incentives for seabed mining.