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Polymetallic nodules on the the ocean floor.

Polymetallic nodules coat fields of the ocean floor and are rich in critical minerals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles.

Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration

Deep Seabed Mining

Call to action:

Enact a global moratorium on all deep seabed mining activities to protect one of the world’s largest and most important ecosystems.

Deep Seabed Mining (DSM) is the process of extracting minerals, including nickel, cobalt, copper, and manganese, from sea beds two hundred meters or more below the ocean's surface. These rare minerals, found as nodules, are key components of lithium-ion batteries, electronic products, and renewable energy infrastructure. The rising demand for these products makes DSM financially appealing to industry, especially as the harmful impacts of extracting the minerals on land have earned public criticism, including concern over human rights abuses. However, many scientists and NGOs are concerned about the damage that DSM will have on ocean ecosystems. It is imperative to stop this industry from developing until the potential ecological impacts of DSM can be better studied and the seabed protected. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) will publish regulations soon. Ultimately, alternatives to these minerals will need to be developed. Until then, many concerned citizens are asking the ISA to enact a moratorium on DSM.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about the potential harms of deep seabed mining and why a moratorium is needed. The seabed is one of the last undisturbed ecosystems on the planet. The deep sea is full of life, much of it undiscovered. Scientists say that without baseline information about the deep sea, the impacts of DSM cannot be adequately measured. To harvest the mineral nodules, companies will likely drop large tractor-like devices into the water, vacuum up nodules, and pump them up to a ship on the surface. The excavation of the ocean floor by machines can alter or destroy deep-sea habitats both on the floor and in the water, causing a loss of species, many of which are found nowhere else. The ecological and environmental costs of deep-sea mining may be greater than removing the same minerals retrieved on land.

Spread the word and make your voice heard. Deep seabed mining has been thrust into the spotlight due to a 2023 deadline that requires the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body, to finalize regulations for DSM. This could result in commercial DSM starting despite recent studies highlighting its potential risks. The ISA has issued thirty-one contracts to governments and private corporations for exploration. The 28th Session of the ISA took place in March 2023, and despite two weeks of negotiations, no agreement was reached.

  • Be vocal on social media. Share videos like this one on your social media pages. You can also share these tweets or repost these assets.
  • Hold producers accountable. Consider tweeting at an electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer using the Race to the Top app to make commitments not to source minerals from the deep seabed.
  • Write to the ISA. Write to the Secretary-General or call the Office of the Permanent Observer. Here is a script you can refer to.
  • Sign petitions. Sign the Say No to Deep Seabed Mining petitions led by this coalition and by Greenpeace. You can also sign this petition that will be sent to your appropriate national ministers, the ISA, and the UN. You can join 704 marine science and policy experts from forty-four countries to call for a moratorium on deep seabed mining by signing their statement here.
  • Join or support an NGO involved with stopping deep seabed mining. The Ocean Foundation is dedicated to reversing the destruction of our oceans and is actively involved with deep-sea mining issues as is the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. For more, see Key Players below.

Groups

Scientists

Collaborate on closing the key scientific gaps related to deep seabed mining. Many scientists have spoken up with specific concerns about the impacts of DSM, which include the loss of important species, the impacts of large sediment plumes, noise pollution, and the interruption of important ecological processes connecting midwater and benthic ecosystems. Yet there remain several understudied areas that have profound implications on basic knowledge as well as the development of environmental regulations:

  • More resources need to be dedicated to understanding the species richness and complexity in areas targeted for deep seabed mining in order to create catalogs similar to those used for equivalent terrestrial environmental impact assessments.
  • Additional basic biological data needs to be collected about deep-sea animals, including growth rates, life histories, and tolerance to stressors, to predict the degree of disturbance that may be experienced.
  • The specific impacts of particle plumes and dissolved chemicals will undoubtedly have impacts, but it is unclear at what radius from the mine site this will occur. Sensitivity thresholds for deep-water ecosystems need to be better understood.

Non-Profit Organizations

Advocate for the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In addition to supporting a moratorium on deep seabed mining, NGOs can play a key role in advocating for the creation of MPAs. By working closely with local communities, these organizations can identify important or endangered marine ecosystems in their region, run campaigns to raise awareness about their need for protection, and propose effective regulations for the long-term management of MPAs (see Marine Protected Areas Nexus).

Center Indigenous voices. Indigenous leaders and activists have made clear that their cultures have origin stories in deep seas and have lived in relationship with the ocean for millennia. Deep seabed mining is a direct attack on Indigenous management of the oceans, and existing groups must center these voices in their campaigning.

Companies

Commit to minerals in your supply chain that are not mined from the seabed. Several businesses have come together to call upon governments worldwide to place a moratorium on deep seabed mining in recognition of the innumerable and important benefits that the oceans provide. Businesses can sign up for the pledge and follow in the footsteps of several other companies:

  • Electric automakers, including BMW, Volvo, Volkswagen, Renault, and Rivian, have committed to ensuring their EV batteries are not using parts mined from the seabed and have committed not to finance deep-sea mining activities.
  • Smartphone producers such as Google and Samsung have signed the pledge as well.
  • Patagonia is a sustainable outdoor company that has signed the pledge.
  • Triodos Bank has committed to excluding deep-sea mining from its financing.

Invest in metal recycling and recovery infrastructure. Investing in recycling for rare-earth elements and nonrenewable resources will be necessary to ensure a regenerative clean-energy shift. Work on making better and smarter use of the metals we have already extracted is underway and can play a significant role in reducing the need for virgin-mined metals.

  • Implement reuse schemes. According to research, recycling end-of-life batteries could reduce global EV mineral demand by between 25 and 55 percent for newly mined copper, cobalt, and nickel by 2040. Reuse schemes could give batteries a second life in new applications, especially in grid storage. The European Union has recently introduced new EV battery regulations in line with circular economy principles, which would reduce the demand for rare-metal mining in the first place.
  • Support alternative materials. Cobalt is an essential raw material only for a particular class of car battery, and researchers have been suggesting alternatives that use no rare earth minerals. Companies can set targets for phasing out cobalt while urging that existing batteries be recycled.

Governance

Commit to a national moratorium on deep seabed mining. Fourteen nations have taken positions against DSM in international waters, from total bans to precautionary pauses. It is essential for all governments to participate in the negotiations at the ISA and add to the voices in favor of a moratorium:

Pass a right-to-repair law. The demand for deep seabed mining is partly driven by the demand for smartphones or other electronic devices. This demand is inflated because manufacturers make it difficult to repair devices. The growing “right-to-repair” movement asks lawmakers to demand manufacturers release the tools, parts, and repair manuals necessary to allow consumers to have their products fixed by independent shops or at home.

  • New York is the first state in the world to pass an electronics right-to-repair law that requires all manufacturers selling digital electronic products to make parts, tools, information, and software available to consumers and independent repair shops.
  • Australia has already passed the right to repair motor vehicles and is currently investigating electronics repair.
  • India has set up a committee to develop a Right to Repair framework that would apply to mobile phones and electronic displays.

Bad Actors

The Metals Company (TMC) is a Canadian mining firm and one of the leading industry players. They conducted tests in the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone from September to November 2022. There is video evidence of their flawed environmental monitoring strategy, which allowed the dumping of sediment into the ocean, which may harm marine life. Gerard Barron is the CEO and chairman. He can be contacted through LinkedIn and X.

Michael Lodge, the secretary general of the ISA, has been criticized for his views on deep sea mining, which include mocking concerns about the potential environmental harm. The German government sent a letter of concern about his lack of neutrality in facilitation. He can be connected through LinkedIn here.

Learn

Listen

Ban Experimental Seabed Mining in the Pacific” by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign (20 mins.)

For Deep Ocean Mining, Questions Abound” by Undark (36 mins.)

Should We Mine the Deep-Sea?” by How to Save a Planet (42 mins.)

The Controversial Push to Mine the Deep Sea” by The Take (23 mins.)

Deep Sea-Mining and Ocean Pollution” by Back to Blue (14 mins.)

Catch Our Drift Episode 10: Deep Sea Mining” by Nekton Mission Podcast (50 mins.)

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