The search for mining in ocean seabed is increasingly required by the global industry sector for the concentration of precious minerals, protected from sea waters. A phenomenon that risks to raise trouble by uncovering a Pandora’s box jealously guarded by Mother Nature. The Principality of Monaco has long opposed the uncontrolled exploitation of the ocean floor and it has recently reiterated its commitment. It took place on the occasion of the 28th session of the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA) and Deep Seabed Mining held in Kingston (Jamaica), from the 10th to the 28th July 2023. The international authority, in fact, created in 1982 by the United Nation Convention, is focused on protecting the sea depths, from 200 meters deep (about 65% of the Earth’s surface), and guaranteeing a fair managing of underwater resources. A real treasure chest of biodiversity mostly unknown and difficult to access for human beings. A marine ecosystem where conditions similar to those of the mainland could be find. Notably: mountain ranges, plateaus, volcanic peaks, canyons and vast abyssal plains. Thus, circumstances that also include important geological formations.
Technological development and the increasing demand for minerals faced with globalised market and population growth are pushing the market to consider exploiting oceans the best solutions. But can we talk about real opportunity or risk? Not by chance, the international summit, also attended by a delegation from the Principality, debated about the drafting of a targeted Regulation for the use of deep sea mines. In that context, many representatives of States expressed doubts about unconditional excavations in the absence of a punctual and strict regulatory framework taking into account the need to ensure the preservation of marine biodiversity.
The question is far from simple, considering that on one hand the supply of minerals would make the economy of some countries more sustainable by making it possible to no longer depend on imports. On the other hands, mining in such inaccessible territories would require large energy consumption and huge investments, impacting social and environmental balances. Unique marine creatures considered of intrinsic scientific value live in the most remote parts of the oceans. At the same time, manganese, iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, lead, zinc and other rare materials are displayed at the same underwater latitudes.
So far, the International Seabed Authority has released approximately 30 exploratory permits for the exploration of deep water mineral deposits, with special regard to the so-called Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) which extends for 6 million km2 between Hawaii and Mexico. Despite the extremely high costs, some companies have started to raise huge capital to finance mining operations. Some scientists and ONGS are raising their voices implying the risks of causing irreversible damage to ocean ecosystems.
Monaco's delegation, in particular, was very clear about the matter. No initiative can be taken without adequate legislative support based on scientific data, to be presented in clear terms in the Regulation. The UN ISA Authority plans other meetings to reach a common and shared agreement among all participating States. The solutions has not been reached yet. Therefore, we just have to stay tuned for the follow-up. ***
By Maurice Abbati
Springer International Publishing