The cold, dark waters of the deep sea once were thought to be largely void of life, but scientists now know that the opposite is true.

Underwater mountain chains teem with fish, corals, and other fauna and flora. Hydrothermal vents gush mineral-rich waters that support communities of deep-sea organisms. Unusual animals, many of which have yet to be identified, roam these surreal landscapes.

But the deep ocean faces threats as governments and companies position themselves to mine mineral deposits on or beneath the deep seabed, more than half of which lies beyond national jurisdiction. History suggests that unregulated exploitation of this environment could have disastrous effects. Many deep-sea organisms are extremely slow growing and may take centuries to recover from damage, if they come back at all.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), established in 1994 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is developing rules for seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

As the ISA is crafting a code to govern mining in these areas, should it go forward, Pew is advocating for rules to protect the deep ocean’s sensitive ecosystems. Deep sea mining should not happen unless and until countries can establish strong and enforceable environmental safeguards to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment.

Deep Sea Mining
Deep Sea Mining
Fact Sheet

Deep Sea Mining: The Basics

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Fact Sheet

The deepest parts of the world’s ocean feature ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. They provide habitats for multitudes of species, many yet to be named. In these vast, lightless regions are also found deposits of valuable minerals in concentrations richer than most on land. Deep sea extraction technologies have now developed to the point where exploration of seabed minerals can give way to active exploitation.

Clarion-Clipperton Zone
Clarion-Clipperton Zone
Fact Sheet

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone

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Fact Sheet

The Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) spans 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) between Hawaii and Mexico, an abyssal plain as wide as the continental United States and punctuated by seamounts. Lying atop the muddy bottom or embedded just beneath it are trillions of potato-size polymetallic nodules. These rocklike deposits contain nickel, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt, and other minerals.

Seabed mining
Seabed mining
Fact Sheet

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

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Fact Sheet

The depths of the Atlantic Ocean are home to fascinating geological features and unusual life forms. The MidAtlantic Ridge (MAR) is a massive underwater mountain range, 1,700 to 4,200 meters (1 to 2.6 miles) below sea level, that runs from the Arctic Ocean to the Southern Ocean. It is a hot spot for hydrothermal vents, which provide habitat for unique species that could provide insight into the origins of life on Earth.

Our Work

vent field
vent field

Development of Seabed Mining Regulations

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The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and invested it with the sole power to govern seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Mining on the international ocean floor cannot take place until the ISA approves exploitation regulations, and drafts of those regulations are now under consideration. Final approval is expected in 2020 or 2021. For perhaps the first time in history, a governing body and its member governments have the chance to establish rules for an extractive industry before it begins.

Proactive Limits on Seabed Mining Would Safeguard West Coast Fisheries, Wildlife, and Communities
Proactive Limits on Seabed Mining Would Safeguard West Coast Fisheries, Wildlife, and Communities

Proactive Limits on Seabed Mining

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Mining the nearshore seafloor along the U.S. West Coast could cause significant damage to commercial and recreational fisheries, marine wildlife, and the communities and Indigenous cultures that depend on them. Industrial-scale prospecting for gold, platinum, titanium, phosphorus, and other minerals along the ocean floor is increasing worldwide. By preventing this harmful activity before it starts, the West Coast can be a model for other regions that are hoping to avoid the possible consequences of seabed mining.