Mining the deep seabed for minerals, such as copper, manganese, and rare earth minerals is an emerging industry. The mining will be done by remotely operated vehicles at a depth of between 1500 and 6000 metres. For the international seabed, which lies outside of the jurisdiction of any coastal State, over 25 exploration contracts for minerals have been granted to governments and private companies.
Before the industry can move from exploration to actual mining, regulations need to be adopted to set the financial, technical, and environmental standards for mining. These regulations are currently being developed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The ISA was established by states through the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Convention declares the international seabed to be the ‘common heritage of mankind’, and tasks the ISA to regulate and administer mineral mining on the international seabed on behalf of mankind. As we are transitioning to the mining phase, the next five years will be crucial for the ISA to discharge its mandate effectively, including the development of benefit-sharing mechanisms and the protection of the marine environment, as provided for in the Convention.
Dr Aline Jaeckel is a Macquarie University Research Fellow based at Macquarie Law School. Aline’s work looks at the balance between mineral mining and the protection of the marine environment in the regulatory framework of the ISA. Her research has already identified a number of measures that the ISA will need to take to comply with its international legal obligations to apply a precautionary approach to deep seabed mining.