Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

Deep sea mining


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level: deep sea mining, significance and environmental concerns

Deep sea

Central Idea

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations body responsible for regulating the ocean floor, is poised to resume negotiations on deep sea mining. The potential opening of the international seabed for mining raises concerns about its impact on fragile marine ecosystems and deep-sea habitats

What is Deep Sea Mining?

  • Deep sea mining refers to the extraction of mineral deposits and metals from the seabed in the deep ocean. It involves mining operations conducted at depths ranging from a few hundred meters to several kilometres below the surface of the ocean.
  • The purpose of deep-sea mining is to obtain valuable resources, including minerals such as nickel, cobalt, rare earth elements, and other metals that are essential for various industries.
  • Deep-sea mining operations are carried out using advanced technologies and equipment, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), robotic arms, dredging tools, and underwater drills. These mining methods are still in the developmental stage, and technological advancements continue to evolve.
  • There are three primary types of deep-sea mining:
    • Polymetallic Nodule Mining: Polymetallic nodules are potato-sized mineral concretions that are found scattered on the ocean floor. These nodules contain valuable metals such as manganese, nickel, cobalt, and copper. The mining process involves collecting these nodules by using specialized equipment and machinery.
    • Seafloor Massive Sulfide (SMS) Mining: SMS deposits are formed around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. They contain high concentrations of metals such as copper, gold, silver, and zinc. The mining process involves cutting and removing the deposits using robotic tools and extracting the minerals.
    • Cobalt-rich Crust Mining: Cobalt crusts are accumulations of minerals that form on the hard surfaces of seamounts and underwater plateaus. These crusts contain cobalt, as well as other valuable metals such as platinum, palladium, and tellurium. The mining process involves stripping the crusts from the rocks using specialized equipment.

Current Regulations on Deep Sea Mining

  • Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is an international treaty that sets out the legal framework for the use and protection of the world’s oceans, including the regulation of deep-sea mining.
  • Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs): Under UNCLOS, coastal states have jurisdiction over their exclusive economic zones, which extend up to 200 nautical miles from their coastlines. Coastal states have the right to explore and exploit mineral resources within their EEZs, including those located on or beneath the seabed.
  • International Seabed Authority (ISA): The ISA is an autonomous international organization established under UNCLOS. It is responsible for regulating activities related to deep sea mining in the international seabed area, which is beyond national jurisdiction.
  • Common Heritage of Mankind: UNCLOS declares that the seabed and its mineral resources in the international seabed area are the “common heritage of mankind.” This concept emphasizes that the resources should be managed for the benefit of all countries and future generations.
  • Licensing and Contracts: The ISA issues exploration licenses and contracts to interested entities for deep sea mining activities in the international seabed area. These licenses and contracts establish the rights and obligations of the parties involved and provide a legal framework for mining operations.
  • Environmental Protection: UNCLOS emphasizes the need to protect the marine environment and preserve the fragile ecosystems of the deep sea. The ISA is tasked with ensuring that mining activities in the international seabed area are conducted in a manner that minimizes environmental harm and adheres to strict environmental standards.
  • Development of Regulations: The ISA is in the process of developing regulations for deep sea mining. These regulations will cover various aspects, including environmental impact assessments, technology standards, financial obligations, and benefit-sharing arrangements.
  • Precautionary Approach: Given the limited scientific understanding of deep sea ecosystems, a precautionary approach is emphasized in the regulations. This approach entails taking proactive measures to avoid or minimize potential environmental harm, even in the absence of complete scientific certainty.

Environmental Concerns and Implications?

  • Ecosystem Damage: Deep-sea mining poses a significant risk of ecosystem damage, particularly in poorly understood deep-sea environments. The extraction of minerals can cause habitat destruction and disturbance, leading to potential loss of biodiversity and disruption of fragile ecosystems.
  • Noise, Vibration, and Light Pollution: Mining activities generate noise, vibration, and light pollution, which can have adverse effects on marine organisms. These disturbances may disrupt natural behaviors, communication, and feeding patterns of marine species, potentially leading to long-term ecological consequences.
  • Chemical Leaks and Spills: The mining process involves the use of fuels and chemicals that can potentially leak or spill into the marine environment. Such incidents can introduce toxic substances into the ecosystem, harming marine life and affecting the overall health of the ocean.
  • Sediment Plumes: Sediment plumes generated during mining operations can have detrimental effects on marine organisms. When valuable materials are extracted, slurry sediment plumes are sometimes pumped back into the sea. These plumes can smother filter-feeding species like corals and sponges and disrupt their feeding mechanisms.
  • Biodiversity Loss: Deep-sea ecosystems host a wide range of unique and often undiscovered species. The environmental impacts of mining activities can result in biodiversity loss, potentially leading to the extinction or decline of vulnerable and endemic species. Scientists have warned that the loss of biodiversity in deep sea ecosystems may be irreversible.
  • Insufficient Understanding: There is limited scientific knowledge about deep sea ecosystems, their biodiversity, and their ecological functions. The lack of understanding makes it challenging to predict the full extent of the environmental impacts caused by mining activities accurately. This uncertainty further raises concerns about the potential consequences of deep-sea mining.
  • Premature Mining: Some scientists and environmental activists argue that it is premature to engage in deep sea mining when there is still much to learn about deep sea biology, ecosystems, and their interdependencies. They advocate for a cautious approach and call for comprehensive research and assessment before any large-scale mining operations begin.


  • The resumption of negotiations on deep sea mining by the International Seabed Authority has sparked debates regarding the balance between resource extraction and environmental protection. While the need for critical materials drives the interest in mining the ocean floor, concerns over potential environmental damage and the limited understanding of deep-sea ecosystems necessitate caution. Establishing comprehensive regulations and environmental safeguards is crucial to mitigate the potential risks associated with deep sea mining

Also read:

India to launch Deep Ocean Mission

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