Growing backlash to deep sea mining is hurting companies in their pockets

A few weeks ago, I reported on the last meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, and interviewed Greenpeace USA representatives, who attended, on the looming threat of deep sea mining. Despite the ISA being headquartered right here, the issue has sparked very little interest among our local media, who are preoccupied with crime and politics, in that order.

Manganese nodules are tens of millions of years old and are the size of large potatoes. (Photo: NOAA)

I am happy to say that there is a glimmer of hope – partly thanks to the power of civil society, which should never be under-estimated. Some ISA members are also expressing concerns. Opposition to deep sea mining has grown considerably since the last meeting, with the result that the stocks in one major player, Canada-based The Metals Company, have plummeted. This company has put pressure on the extremely tiny Pacific island of Nauru to trigger a clause that would allow for mining as early as next year (click on the links above for more).

A simple infographic on deep sea mining from Kiwis Against Seabed Mining in New Zealand.

Chile has written to the United Nations calling for a 15-year moratorium on deep sea mining. In its letter to the 32nd ISA meeting, which took place in New York from June 13 to 17, it explained that…

The deep seabed is one of the most sensitive ocean ecosystems, for which there is insufficient scientific knowledge and limited understanding of the potential impacts of ocean activities, especially in relation to its role as a carbon sink.

In this regard, Chile expresses its concern about the activation of the deadline established in paragraph 15(b) of the Annex to the Agreement on the Implementation of Part XI of the Convention. This concern is based on the fact that, in order to develop all the necessary regulations to facilitate the exploitation of the seabed, large investments in research are required to carry out the necessary activities such as data collection, collation and analysis of a large amount of bathymetric, geophysical and biochemical information.

Letter dated 16 June 2022 from the Permanent Mission of Chile to the United Nations

Fiji has called for a moratorium in its national waters in the Pacific, supported by Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, but Chile is the first country to call for one in international waters. I hope more will follow suit.

Young activists led by the Alliance of Solwara Warriors in Papua New Guinea protest against deep sea mining on World Ocean Day recently.

Let’s face it, deep sea mining can surely not be in keeping with the principles of the so-called Blue Economy. Here’s more from the Ocean Foundation’s Deep Sea Mining Campaign and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (which is rapidly gaining more members):

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign (DSMC) is calling on the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to follow prospective deep-sea miners, The Metals Company (TMC), into the abyss as the company’s shares plummet towards $1 and momentum for a halt to the industry builds. An earlier seabed mining company, Nautilus, previously went into liquidation.  

The plunge in TMC shares comes as support for a halt to the nascent industry gains momentum. The Co-operative Bank is the latest to call for a stop to the industry in their newly published customer-led ethical policy. The bank joins other financial institutions, scientists, corporations, parliamentarians, civil society groups, and frontline communities in calling for a moratorium that would stop the destructive industry from becoming operational. 

Last year, TMC’s sponsoring State, Nauru, triggered an obscure legal provision called the ‘2-year rule’, that would allow the ISA to begin taking applications for commercial deep sea mining projects by July 2023 with whatever rules are in place at that time. The ISA, the body charged with regulating the emerging industry, is meeting intensively in July and again in October in an effort to develop, adopt, and approve the regulations in 2023. 

If TMC’s shares were to close below $1 for 30 days, a NASDAQ process towards delisting the company could be triggered. “The market has clearly lost faith in TMC, so why then is the ISA pushing forward with such determination this year to adopt mining regulations simply because TMC convinced the Pacific Island country of Nauru to trigger an obscure ‘2-year’ rule that would allow the company to apply for a mining license in 2023? It beggars belief that the 167 member countries of the ISA are allowing themselves to be led around by the nose on this,” said Matthew Gianni of the DSCC. 

Concerns continue to grow that the ISA is not transparent or fit for purpose. Today, civil society pushed back on constraints proposed by the ISA to restrict participation in the upcoming ISA negotiations in July. In a joint letter to the ISA Secretary General, 31 civil society organizations called on the Authority to lift the restrictions or else postpone the meetings to ensure that as many states, civil society organizations, journalists, and others as possible can make their voices heard in negotiations that could open up a vast new frontier of the global ocean commons, the ‘common heritage of mankind’, to large-scale industrial resource extraction. A number of ISA member States have also voiced concerns regarding the new restrictions. 

“Make no mistake, if exploitation regulations are adopted, the door will be opened to commercial seabed mining applications from any of the 31 contractors who have exploration contracts,” said Duncan Currie, legal adviser to the DSCC. Currie added that “Due to its structure, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the body to reject a recommendation for commercial deep-sea mining. This would be an unmitigated disaster for the ocean.”

In April, the Los Angeles Times published an exposé on the ISA, reporting conflicts of interest between the deep-sea mining industry, the Authority, and its secretariat. This followed an article published by Bloomberg in June of last year raising questions concerning TMC, at that time called “DeepGreen”, and related companies.

Scientists warn that if the industry were to go ahead, it would result in an irreversible loss of biodiversity and could threaten other benefits to humanity, including future medicines, critical carbon stocks, and fisheries in international waters for species such as tuna. 

The support of technology and electric vehicle industry heavyweights for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, including Rivian, Renault, BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo Group, Scandia, Google, and Samsung SDI, raises the question among the public and investors about whether a market for these minerals will exist at all.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Financial Initiative issued a report which concluded that “there is no foreseeable way in which the financing of deep-sea mining activities can be viewed as consistent with the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles”. Instead, the report recommends financial institutions invest in reducing the environmental footprint of terrestrial mining and support the transition to better use of existing stores of metals and a circular economy.  

The DSCC is calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining unless and until a number of conditions around scientific information, environmental harm, good governance, and social license can be met. Last year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature adopted resolution 122 calling for such a moratorium.

By the way, I am curious to know what is Jamaica’s current stance on deep sea mining? It appears that this little island is all for it – or perhaps, the Government doesn’t seem to be very focused on the issue right now. Nevertheless, Jamaica has signed up for it – as of last year.

(left to right): Dr. Kathy-Ann Brown, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the International Seabed Authority; Michael Lodge, Secretary General of the ISA; Mike Henry, Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister; and Peter Jantzen, CEO of Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited, which is being sponsored by the Jamaican Government to conduct deep sea mining. The occasion was the presentation of a polymetallic nodule retrieved from the deep seabed at a depth of 4,500 meters to Minister Henry. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service, July 2019)

Please note that there is a Jamaican company focused on deep sea mining – in the Pacific. It is called “Blue Minerals Jamaica” and in March 2019 the Jamaican Cabinet gave approval for Jamaica to venture into deep sea mining; something that had been in the works for a few years previously. According to this 2019 article:

The process of seeking approval for entry into the Deep Seabed Mining industry was a multi Ministry/Agency effort piloted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, advised by the Attorney General’s Office and supported by the Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Mike Henry.

On March 16, 2021, Blue Minerals Jamaica signed a 15-year contract with the ISA for the exploration of polymetallic nodules in a 75,000 square kilometre area of the Pacific Ocean. In this article, Ambassador Alison Stone Roofe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the ISA, is quoted as saying:

“Jamaica welcomes the recent signing of an exploration contract between ISA and our sponsored entity, Blue Minerals Jamaica. As a small island developing state and one which is deeply committed to supporting the Authority in achieving its mandate, we embrace the opportunity to support participation in deep-seabed mining. We look forward to its contribution to the economic growth and development of Jamaica.” 

Has the Jamaican Government really thought this through? What does the current Ministry of Transport and Mining have to say about it – not to mention our environmental agencies, if either of them were indeed in any way involved or consulted? Or does it not matter too much because we will be doing this on the other side of the world? How far have things progressed at Blue Minerals Jamaica in the past year or so? Have any other Caribbean countries got involved in deep sea mining, or is Jamaica’s involvement a “first”?

For media enquiries, please contact:

Rosie Chambers- Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Tanya Brooks, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 703-342-9226, E:   (P.S. Tanya is a Jamaican! Insert Jamaican flag emoji here…) 

Coastal clean up on World Ocean Day. Photo: Facebook page of the Pacific Conference of Churches, which is firmly opposed to deep sea mining.

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