Coal and Mining Sector

Deep Sea Mining permits may be coming soon


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: International Seabed Authority (ISA) , UNCLOS

Mains level: Deep Sea Mining

deep sea mining

Central Idea

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is preparing to resume negotiations on deep sea mining, a process that involves extracting mineral deposits and metals from the ocean’s seabed.
  • These negotiations have raised concerns over potential impacts on marine ecosystems and habitats, highlighting the need for regulations and environmental safeguards.

About International Seabed Authority

  • ISA is a Jamaica-based organization established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The authority holds jurisdiction over the ocean floors outside of the Exclusive Economic Zones of its 167 member states.

What is Deep Sea Mining?

  • Deep sea mining is a process that involves extracting mineral deposits and metals from the seabed.
  • These deposits are rich in materials such as nickel, rare earths, and cobalt, which are crucial for renewable energy technologies and everyday devices like cellphones and computers.
  • Types of such Mining include-
  1. Polymetallic Nodule Collection: Harvesting deposit-rich nodules from the ocean floor.
  2. Seafloor Sulphide Mining: Extracting minerals from massive seafloor sulphide deposits.
  3. Cobalt Crust Stripping: Removing cobalt crusts from rocks on the seabed.

Evolution of Mining Technology

  • Vacuum Extraction: Companies exploring the use of massive pumps to vacuum materials from the seafloor.
  • AI-Based Robotics: Developing artificial intelligence-based technology to teach deep-sea robots how to collect nodules.
  • Advanced Machinery: Utilizing advanced machines to mine materials from underwater mountains and volcanoes.

Strategic Importance

  • Depletion of Onshore Reserves: Deep sea mining offers access to strategically important resources as onshore reserves diminish.
  • Growing Demand: Crucial minerals are in high demand due to the increasing reliance on renewable energy and technological advancements.
  • Regulating Deep Sea Mining: Balancing Interests and Environmental Concerns

Regulating Deep Sea Mining: Balancing Interests and Environmental Concerns

  • The governance of deep sea mining is currently guided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • This framework aims to protect marine environments, facilitate economic benefits sharing, and support scientific research.

UNCLOS and Exploration Licenses

  • Maritime Territory Management: Countries govern their exclusive economic zones, while the high seas fall under UNCLOS jurisdiction.
  • “Common Heritage of Mankind”: The seabed and its mineral resources are considered global assets, requiring responsible management.
  • Exploration Partnerships: Mining companies collaborate with countries to secure exploration licenses, with focus in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.

Pressure to Establish Regulations

  • Nauru’s Application: In 2021, Nauru and Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. applied to exploit minerals, triggering a clause that requires the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to establish regulations by July 2023.
  • Environmental Concerns: Urgency to address potential ecosystem impacts and safeguard marine habitats fuels the need for comprehensive regulations.

Environmental Concerns

  • Limited Knowledge: Only a small portion of the deep seabed has been explored, raising concerns about the potential damage to poorly understood marine ecosystems.
  • Impacts on marine ecosystem: Noise, vibration, and light pollution, as well as leaks and spills of chemicals, pose risks to marine life.
  • Sediment Plumes: Pumping slurry sediment back into the sea after extracting valuable materials can harm filter-feeding species and disrupt ecosystems.

Way Forward

  • Calls for Moratorium: More than a dozen countries, including France, Germany, and Pacific Island nations, advocate for a ban or moratorium until environmental safeguards are in place.
  • Research and Responsible Mining: Comprehensive research on deep-sea ecosystems is crucial to understand the potential implications of mining.
  • Sustainable Practices: Encouraging responsible mining practices, including minimizing pollution, reducing ecosystem disturbance, and implementing proper waste management.


  • Deep sea mining holds the potential to unlock valuable minerals critical for renewable energy and technological advancements.
  • However, the process raises significant environmental concerns and requires robust regulations to balance resource extraction with the protection of fragile marine ecosystems.
  • Continued research, responsible practices, and international cooperation are essential to ensure sustainable and environmentally conscious deep-sea mining operations.


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