Five years ago, I attended one of the annual meetings of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). It was their 20th-anniversary session. In case you did not know, this UN body is headquartered in Kingston, and meetings take place once a year at the Jamaica Conference Centre. At the time, I wrote about the crisis facing our oceans, and the passionate advocacy of Pacific nations such as Fiji on behalf of Small Island Developing States, in this article for Gleaner Blogs (I write three or four articles monthly on the “Social Impact with Emma” page).
As an “outsider,” I sat with a group of environmental NGOs, including Greenpeace, who were allowed roughly five minutes to comment on the proceedings, as observers. There were no media present that I was aware of, whether local or overseas. I will never forget the words of the Greenpeace representative, who described the oceans as literally “the womb” of mankind. It’s always hard to tell at international conferences whether any of the participants with headphones on are actually listening.
The ISA issued a press release yesterday, which referred to itself as a “custodian of the common heritage of mankind” – the seas that cover roughly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. I would also refer you to a release dated July 16 from Kingston, in which the ISA Council sat down together to pore over “a first reading of the draft exploitation regulations for commercial deep seabed mining and continue discussions around the payment mechanism for mineral exploitations.” The words “custodian” and “exploitation” do not mesh very well, in my mind. This has always been my concern with the ISA, however. Officials make lofty speeches about “sustainability,” while diligently pursuing opportunities for deep-sea mining.
Yes, we have not plundered enough of our land. We now have our sights set on the seabed. With the technology far more advanced than it was 25 years ago, this appears to be a much more likely possibility.
Interestingly, our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith was elected President of the 25th Session of the ISA on July 22. Today, Professor Stephen Vasciannie will present a lecture on “The Role of the Montego Bay Convention and the International Seabed Authority in Contributing to the International Rule of Law.”
According to the Ministry’s press release:
The Session will include a special commemorative meeting of the Assembly on Thursday, July 25 with the 2019 staging of the Secretary-General’s Award for Excellence in Deep Sea Research and a High-Level Panel Discussion entitled “Strengthening Capacity-building Opportunities and Initiatives for Developing States” as well as a formal ceremony of commemoration in the afternoon. To bring the day’s activities to a close, the Minister will host a reception at the new offices of the Foreign Ministry in downtown Kingston…During the session, members of the Assembly will also consider: implementation of the Strategic Plan for ISA for the period 2019 – 2023 and the High-Level Action Plan; requests for Observer status; the annual report of the Secretary-General, and the statement by the Council President on the work of the Council.
Greenpeace Ship Arrives in Jamaica to Stand With the Jamaica Environment Trust Against Deep-sea Mining
Kingston, 23 July 2019 – The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and representatives of several other Jamaican civil society organizations, joined Greenpeace activists this morning outside the International Seabed Authority (ISA) annual meeting, where they deployed a 6 -meter banner saying “No to deep-sea mining, protect our oceans” and called on governments to agree on a strong Global Ocean Treaty that would protect the oceans from industrial exploitation.
Greenpeace’s ship, the Esperanza, sailed to Jamaica direct from one of the most iconic battlegrounds for this nascent industry, the so-called Lost City in the mid-Atlantic, that is under threat after the ISA granted an exploration contract in the region. Scientists warn that deep-sea mining could cause irreversible and inevitable harm to marine life, including extinctions of species, and drive the climate crisis by disrupting “blue carbon” stores in the seabed.
Although Jamaican waters are not a target for deep-sea mining, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) has agreed to sponsor Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited’s application for a deep-sea mining exploration contract this year. JET expressed concern about the absence of information in the public domain and the implications of this agreement for Jamaica and our oceans.
“In the absence of a national regulatory or monitoring framework for deep-sea mining, combined with significant associated environmental and financial risks, a sponsorship agreement with a deep-sea mining company does not reflect well on the GOJ’s international commitments to transparency and sound environmental stewardship,” said Suzanne Stanley, CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust.
The Esperanza is in the middle of a Pole to Pole expedition from the Arctic to the Antarctic, highlighting threats to the ocean and calling for Global Ocean Treaty to protect international waters from multiple pressures, including the deep-sea mining industry.
“The oceans are facing more threats now than at any time in history, but the dangerous deep-sea mining industry wants to put yet more pressure on fragile ecosystems,” said Louisa Casson, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign. “The International Seabed Authority is responsible for regulating deep-sea mining, but instead of safeguarding the deep ocean this so-called regulator is serving the interests of industry and ‘selling off’ the seabed for mining exploration.”
This peaceful assembly outside the International Seabed Authority comes the day after a protest against bauxite mining in Cockpit Country, a Jamaican biodiversity hotspot.
“Mining, whether on land – in the Cockpit Country – or in the deep ocean, is never good for the environment. As global citizens, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) joins the efforts of those holding world leaders accountable for their actions related to the health of our oceans. The rush towards Deep Seabed Mining (DSM) puts the health of the world’s oceans at risk, threatening marine biodiversity and our common ecological heritage,” said Stanley.
 The Cabinet of the Government of Jamaica has given approval for Jamaica to enter the emerging industry of Deep Seabed Mining (DSM) through its sponsorship of Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited (BMJ).
 A recent Greenpeace International report, In Deep Water, detailed the limitations of the ISA to protect deep-sea environments from cumulative stresses such as fisheries, climate change and plastic pollution, highlighting the importance of ongoing negotiations for a Global Ocean Treaty that could put in place strong environmental safeguards across the global oceans.
 Pole to Pole Expedition: Greenpeace is sailing from the Arctic to the Antarctic, undertaking research and investigations to highlight threats facing the oceans and to campaign for a Global Ocean Treaty covering all seas outside of national waters. Map of the ‘Pole to Pole’ route. See contacts below for expedition enquiries, including for media interested in joining the ship on-board.
 Greenpeace and scientists are calling for a Treaty that can create a network of ocean sanctuaries covering at least a third of the global oceans by 2030. For more information see Protect the Global Oceans: Why We Need a Global Ocean Treaty. The third of four rounds of negotiation at the UN towards a treaty covering international will take place at the United Nations in New York in August 2019, with the treaty process set to conclude with a fourth and final round in the first half of 2020.
 28 eminent marine scientists from around the world have issued a stark warning about the emerging industry of deep-sea mining, stating that its development “puts the overall health of ocean ecosystems under threat” and could contribute to climate breakdown. The full statement of concern from deep-sea scientists can be seen here
 Louisa Casson is an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
 The peaceful assembly in Jamaica was organized by Greenpeace UK with participation from Greenpeace activists from around the world.
I would have thought that our seas have enough problems, many of which I outlined years ago: overfishing, ocean acidification, and other issues related to climate change, the decline of our coral reefs, solid waste, especially plastics…The list goes on. Add to this, now, the very real threat of “sustainable” mining of the seabed, and the chimera of the so-called “Blue Economy.”
What is to become of our seas?