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Exploring the Uncharted Waters: International Seabed Authority and Ocean Mining

International Seabed Authority Regulates Ocean Mining

The vast expanse of the ocean floor, covering over 70% of the earth’s surface, remains largely unexplored and underutilized. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) was established in 1994 to govern and regulate the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources found in international waters beyond the jurisdiction of its 167 member countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The ISA headquarters is located in Jamaica.

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Permit Applications for Ocean Mining to Open in 2023

In July 2023, the ISA will begin accepting permit applications from companies interested in extracting minerals from the ocean floor. Among the valuable materials that can be obtained through undersea mining are cobalt, copper, nickel, and manganese. Despite the ISA’s authority to grant permits, the lack of a clear mining code has created uncertainty around the permit review process.

Polymetallic Nodules and Their Appeal to Mining Companies

Polymetallic nodules, which are rocks the size of potatoes, can be found on the ocean floor at depths of 4 to 6 kilometers. These nodules contain minerals such as nickel, copper, and manganese in high concentrations, making them an attractive target for mining companies.

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea Governs Ocean Use

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea established the ISA, providing the legal framework for ocean use and management. The convention sets guidelines for marine natural resource management, environmental protection, and businesses operating in the ocean, while also defining countries’ rights and responsibilities in ocean use. The ISA’s rules and regulations are binding on its 167 member countries.

Debating a Mining Code for the Ocean Floor

Despite nearly a decade of debate, the ISA has yet to create a mining code. The mining code would provide clear rules and regulations for companies seeking to explore and exploit minerals on the ocean floor. The process has been difficult due to concerns about the potential environmental impact of deep-sea mining. Some members of the ISA’s council have called for a moratorium on industrial mining, citing potential damage to marine life and ecosystems, as well as the importance of deep-sea ecosystems in climate regulation. While some countries, such as Nauru, have pushed for the adoption of a mining code within two years to ensure responsible ocean resource use, Canada, Australia, and Belgium have emphasized the need for strict environmental regulations and caution before allowing mining to begin.

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