Deep Sea Mining: Should It Be Allowed?

By Connor Cunningham

Deep-sea mining (DSM) poses significant threats to marine ecosystems, many of which are poorly understood. The extraction process involves disturbing the seabed, which can result in the suspension of fine particles in the water column. These particles can spread over vast areas, smothering marine life and disrupting the base of the oceanic food web. The deep sea is home to a wide variety of species, many of which have not been discovered yet and some of which could be crucial in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems.[1] The loss of biodiversity is not only a concern for environmental conservation but also for potential medical and scientific discoveries.[2] Given the current understanding of deep-sea environments and the potential for significant and irreversible harm, DSM should be banned by ISA.

While proponents of DSM argue it is necessary to meet the growing demand for minerals used in technology and renewable energy applications, the economic benefits must be weighed against long-term environmental costs. The environmental damage caused by DSM could have far-reaching economic impacts, including on fisheries and tourism, industries that rely on healthy marine ecosystems. The initial investment and development costs for DSM are also substantial, with no guarantee of profitability given the volatility of mineral prices and the potential for new technology to reduce demand for specific minerals.[3]

Another argument against DSM is grounded in the understanding that marine ecosystems provide many critical services to society. These include carbon sequestration, oxygen production, and biodiversity, which are essential for human well-being. Disrupting these systems through DSM could have irreversible consequences. The evidence of harm from terrestrial mining, including habitat destruction and pollution, suggests similar or even more severe outcomes from DSM due to the sensitivity and inaccessibility of deep-sea environments.[4]

The governance of international waters and the seabed presents significant policy challenges. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is tasked with regulating DSM to ensure it is conducted responsibly, but the effectiveness of such regulation is uncertain.[5] There is definitely a need for more robust environmental standards and enforcement mechanisms to protect marine ecosystems. For instance, under the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, rigorous environmental standards are mandated to protect marine ecosystems by requiring member states to achieve “Good Environmental Status” of their marine waters.[6] This illustrates a practical application of environmental regulation which could be adapted to the context of deep-sea mining. Furthermore, the principle of the common heritage of humankind, included in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, emphasizes that the ocean and its resources are the collective property of humanity. It also calls for equitable and sustainable management. Therefore, the potential environmental impacts of DSM call for a careful approach to its regulation.[7]

Overall, the approach to DSM should prioritize the protection of marine ecosystems through strong regulatory frameworks, international cooperation, and investment in sustainable alternatives to meet mineral demands. This might include recycling and material innovation. The economic rationale for DSM does not adequately account for the environmental costs and the potential for unforeseen consequences on a global scale. Policy development must be guided by a commitment to sustainability, equity, and the long-term health of the planet, ensuring that the oceans remain a source of biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations.

[1] Pew Charitable Trusts. (2022, March 2). The deep ocean is essential for life on Earth-but it is under threat.

[2] Chung, D. (2023, November 15). The promise and risks of deep-sea mining. Reuters.

[3] Ashford, O., Baines, J., Barbanell, M., & Wang, K. (2024, February 23). What we know about deep-sea mining – and what we don’t. World Resources Institute.

[4] Chung, D. (2023, November 15). The promise and risks of deep-sea mining. Reuters.

[5] Pickens, C. (2024, January 29). From what-if to what-now: Status of the deep-sea mining regulations and underlying drivers for outstanding issues. Marine Policy.

[6] Marine environment. European Commission . (n.d.).

[7] Office, U. S. G. A. (2023, November 30). Deep-sea mining could help meet demand for critical minerals, but also comes with serious obstacles. U.S. GAO.

2 thoughts on “Deep Sea Mining: Should It Be Allowed?

  1. Connor,
    I agree with the point you made about the dangers of Deep Sea Mining that stem from the inaccessible nature of the deep ocean. It is a part of our world that we know so little about, and thus wisdom demands that we treat it with greater care than if we fully understood the consequences of our actions. I never would have considered the ability to use the ESA for unknown territory, but I think it’s a really good idea. I love watching nature documentaries about the ocean, and the bits in the deep sea are always the coolest because of all the weird fantastical life forms they discover in the deep. I know that these organisms interact with each other and play an important role in maintaining the equilibrium of our planet. The fact that their habitat has thus far been so inaccessible to humans means that you are likely correct that they are very sensitive to changing conditions, and it makes me very worried abut the consequences of DSM. I’m not sure what the best way is to go about preventing these mining practices from taking place. I gather from your post that they mostly take place in international waters, outside of the jurisdiction of any national government, so I think as individuals, if we wanted to play a positive role in preserving these species and preventing DSM, the best way to go about it would be to demand accountability from corporations that rely on substances acquired through DSM. Making your individual voice heard has the power to demand change from big corporations, and without their support, I think it would be possible to eliminate, or at least reduce the prevalence of Deep Sea Mining.

  2. Connor,
    I really appreciated your blog because of the different details you provided on it. The lack of knowledge that we have on our marine ecosystem is disappointing, but not surprising due to the priorities of the economy rather than the environment. In terms of whether I believe Deep Sea Mining should be allowed, I think it should not. As you mentioned in your blog, Deep Sea Mining causes a lot of disruption to the seabed. In my opinion, the cost of this disruption outweighs the benefits that are provided by Deep Sea Mining. However, if Deep Sea Mining were to change to the point where it is heavily regulated and prioritizes the marine ecosystem, then I would say it should be allowed. I am curious about the future of Deep Sea Mining since based on the current administration this country is moving toward being more environmentally cautious and more sustainable. Once again, I thought your blog was very well put together, and I appreciated all the information you provided.

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