Uniting and activating powerful voices for ocean conservation

Waves on the Horizon

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Deep-sea mining on the horizon

The UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) is holding its annual session from 7–18th August in Jamaica. Under the guidance of the new ISA Secretary-General, the UN body is taking on the major chore of developing new regulations for seabed mining and outlining how they’ll be enforced. It will probably take 2 to 3 more years for the ISA to vote on the final approval of this new mining code, so now is a crucial time for negotiations of these new rules.

Seabed mining in shallow waters for gravel, sand, phosphates, gold and diamonds has been happening for decades around the world. But prospectors for deep-sea mining are now eyeing resources such as manganese, copper, cobalt, nickel, lithium, platinum, and a medley of minerals called rare earth elements, further out from shore on the Ocean floor beyond national jurisdictions. Until now the high cost of building machines to operate commercially in these extreme conditions has been prohibitive, however, some contractors are now confident in their technical capacities to mine the seafloor at depths of up to 6,000 metres. Commercial deep-sea mining under 500 metres could move from a dream to reality within the next 5–10 years. Indeed, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, a Canadian company called Nautilus could start deep-sea mining as early as 2019.

Only UNCLOS signatory states or contractors working for a signatory state can mine in these areas beyond national jurisdiction, and then only if they have a license from the ISA. Nobody is mining in these areas yet, although 26 exploration permits have been issued.

However, environmental campaigners are very concerned about the impact these mining activities would have on Earth’s final frontier – the deep sea floor. With every deep-sea expedition unveiling weird and wonderful species, can we give the green light to mine these areas when scientists don’t even know what the effects of mining could be or what we could be losing? Scientists say biodiversity loss from deep-sea mining will be unavoidable and a number of environmental groups argue that deep-sea mining should be banned altogether, and efforts should go into better product design and recycling. A 2016 report called into question the need for deep-sea mining to fulfil mineral demands for the renewables industry, while Apple’s recent commitment to a no-mining future has put a dampener on deep-sea mining ambitions.

NGOs – such as those that are part of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition – are keeping close tabs on developments, and will be at the annual ISA session arguing for strong regulations that ensure the protection of deep-sea habitats. It should be a lively time…at least within the never-hurry context of international decision making…

MPA Congress coming up in Chile
Chile will be hosting the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4) from the 4–8th September. The Congress happens every 4 years, bringing together the "who’s who" of the MPA community. This year’s theme – “MPAs: Bringing the ocean and people together” – aims to show the benefits MPAs bring to the Ocean and the millions who depend on its ecosystem services.

The 2017 Global Ocean Refuges will also be announced at IMPAC. The Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) is an initiative spearheaded by the Marine Conservation Institute that tries to encourage decision makers to establish effective MPAs. 5 sites have been identified that meet the GLORES’ science-based standards and qualify for an award, and GLORES is now seeking feedback on these nominations by the 17th July – on whether the evaluation report has missed anything or got anything wrong. This information will be submitted to the GLORES Science Council to determine the award status (platinum, gold, silver, no award) of the nominated sites. To learn more and spread the word check out this blog and follow @savingoceans and #GLORES.

Our Ocean Conference
After New York, it’s the European Union’s turn to take centre stage with all things Oceans when Malta hosts the 2017 Our Ocean conference on behalf of the EU on the 5–6th October. Its key message is “Mi Ocean es tu Ocean” – or something like that. The plan is to build on the commitments of the past 3 Our Ocean conferences, report back on progress made on past commitments, and inspire new ones. In particular, the conference is hoping that corporate leaders will come to the table, and companies with the “most ambitious and measurable pledges” will be able to profile them at the meeting. Click here to ask for more information, while if you are looking for inspiration check out Ocean Unite’s the Ocean is Everybody’s Business. The EU has also launched its own initiatives, including beach clean-ups by EU staff, "Malta’s Schools Love our Ocean” project, a travelling exhibition around the EU on plastic pollution, and world aquariums against marine litter.

This meeting is a good opportunity for the EU to reflect upon the Mediterranean Sea, which has become a “poster child” for biodiversity loss and a serious lack of control over the fishing industry in the region. A recent study by the European Commission says that 93% of the Mediterranean's assessed fish stocks are over-exploited, and a number are on the verge of depletion. It has lost 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of the total fish population over the past 50 years. Meaningful action is needed to fight IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing in the region – indeed a good start would be for Malta to stop handing out Flags of Convenience to vessels! Other EU governments need to let fish and marine life bounce back through listening to scientific advice when setting catch limits, stopping destructive fishing activities such as bottom-trawling, and scaling up their network of marine reserves.

Click here for a forward-looking calendar.