September 2018 · Volume 3, Issue 2                    Subscribe | Visit Website
The submarine Noctiluca cruises across the surface. Photo Courtesy Shanee Stopnitzky.

The rise of low-cost ROVs and community submersibles

As a community, we discuss mining, management, and monitoring, as well as the regulations that shape them, in terms of governments, major corporations, and research institutions. The deep-sea mining community is small and the complexities of working at abyssal depths engenders collaboration, cooperation, and, in the case of exploitation, compromise. While there are many stakeholders potentially affected by deep-sea mining, only a small proportion of them will ever directly engage with the deep seafloor.

A few extremely wealthy individuals have access to private submersibles and ROVs and have on occasion made them available for research and exploration, but they are the exception. The tools necessary to reach the depths of a hydrothermal vent or polymetallic nodule field are simply too expensive.

That may soon change.

Read more: The rise of lost-cost ROVs and community submersibles.

From the Editor: A submarine for every explorer!

This month, we look at two movements to democratize ocean exploration by providing accessible ROVs and submersibles to stakeholders, regardless of financial resources, academic credentials, or industry connections, and how that might shape the future of environmental monitoring in the deep sea. I report on the outcomes of DOSI Day 2018, as well as the 15th Deep-sea Biology Symposium, held last week in Monterey, California. And Leigh Marsh shares her perspective on what the discovery of beaked whale tracks means for environmental impact assessments in the CCZ.

Read more: From the Editor: A submarine for every explorer!

DOSI gathers ahead of the Deep-sea Biology Symposium to plan for the Ocean Decade

The Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative is a collective of mostly marine scientists whose goal is to use science, technology, policy, law and economics to advise on ecosystem-based management of resource use in the deep ocean as well as strategies to maintain the integrity of deep-ocean ecosystems within and beyond national jurisdiction. DOSI met on Sunday, September 9, ahead of the Deep-Sea Biology Symposium, to discuss their goals for the next 3 years. These goals include integrating their mission with the priorities of the UN Decade of the Ocean and, for the DOSI Minerals Working Group, providing comments to the ISA draft exploitation regulations.

Above: DOSI Day participants. Photo courtesy DOSI.

Read more: Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative gathers ahead of the Deep-sea Biology Symposium to plan for the Ocean Decade.

Deep-diving whales lay tracks across the CCZ

A series of tantalizing tracks on the seafloor led Dr. Leigh Marsh on a journey of discovery that could have significant implications for our understanding of the ecology of nodule fields while extending the record for deep diving marine mammals by over 1000 meters.

It began in 2015, when the science team aboard the RRS James Cook observed strange depressions in the seafloor during baseline surveys of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. Though often imperceptible on camera, these tracks were detected by the high-resolution side-scan SONAR system on the AUV Autosub6000. Too large to be attributed to local deep-sea fauna and too consistent to be the result of geologic processes, the tracks initially perplexed the researchers. This ultimately led to an unexpected conclusion, the tracks most resembled depressions made by beaked whales and other marine mammals in shallower ecosystems.

Above: Beaked whale gouges on the deep seafloor. Photo from Marsh et al. 2018.

Read more: Deep-diving whales lay tracks across the CCZ.

A treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas

High seas regions of particular importance to migratory species. Red: 10% of concentrated biodiversity (the most important habitats and feeding grounds for migratory species),  Yellow: 70% of biodiversity (areas of importance for migratory species),  Deep blue: areas not important for migratory species. Courtesy Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab.
The high seas are home to approximately 90% of marine life and while some industries such as seafloor mining are (soon to be) strongly regulated, the freedom to transit, fish, and lay cables in the high seas are guaranteed under UNCLOS. Over the last week, UN representatives have been meeting to discuss establishing reserves and requiring environmental impact assessments more broadly for high seas users. As this would represent a fundamental change to the freedom of the seas enshrined in the UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas, it requires a new binding agreement on protecting the high seas. 
The International Seabed Authority is one of 20 maritime organizations that oversees some aspect of regulation on the high seas. Ahead of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction meeting, the ISA issued a statement in support of the negotiations, though cautioned the council not to create increased fragmentation among current jurisdictional regulations: 

"In essence, the [UN] Convention [on the Law of the Seas] requires the marine environment in its entirety to be protected, not just parts of it.

We must be careful, therefore, that in discussing parts of the marine environment in parts of ocean space, we do not further fragment the law of the sea and act in a manner that is incompatible with the comprehensive and holistic approach adopted by the framers of the Convention." 


Read the full ISA statement here: Statement by the International Seabed Authority.


Read a summary of the meeting and what's under discussion here: Negotiations start on a high seas treaty.

New Resources

Upcoming Events

Career Opportunities

  1. (ISA - ENVIRONMENTAL) Programme Manager (Marine Environment).
  2. (ISA - ENVIRONMENTAL) Environmental Analyst.
  3. (ISA - ADMINISTRATIVE) Budget and Oversight Officer

DeepGreen reflects on the history of nodule mining. 

DeepGreen Metals shared a little information about the early history of deep-sea exploration and the first discovery of polymetallic nodules on the seafloor. 
Deep-sea Mining News in Brief

Courtesy AFP.

Futuna rejects seabed exploration and mining.

(Radio New Zealand) The kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna have ruled out allowing any work related to seabed mining in their waters, saying their stance is final. 

Read More: Futuna rejects seabed exploration and mining.


Courtesy Bloomberg

Mining waste set to grow, but ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ solutions abound

(Mining Weekly) The evolution of waste management techniques to accommodate the shift to low-grade ores by mining operations is one of the key emerging trends in the global mining waste management market.

Read More: Mining waste set to grow, but ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ solutions abound.

Recent Press Headlines

Processing Technologies, Metal Recoveries & the Economic Feasibility of Deep Sea Mining

Warsaw workshop group. Photo courtesy ISA. 

The ISA, Interoceanmetal Joint Organization, and the Ministry of the Environment in Poland organized a joint workshop on Processing Technologies, Metal Recoveries & the Economic Feasibility of Deep Sea Mining in Poland earlier this month. The workshop focused on processing technologies, economic feasibility, and impact of seabed mining on terrestrial mineral supplies as well as environmental issues and international cooperation. Participation predominantly consisted of contractors holding exploration contracts.
DeepGreen Minerals kicked of the workshop with a discussion of the environmental issues surrounding nodules processing, which are largely the same as those of conventional ore processing. Peter Balaz of Interoceanmetal discussed the extensive uncertainties inherent in any economic model for polymetallic nodule processing at this early stage, particularly as payment regimes and environmental regulations are still under discussion. 

Read more about the workshop and see the presentations here: Processing Technologies, Metal Recoveries, and Economic Feasibility of Deep Sea Mining

Participants of DSBS 2018. Photo courtesy DSBS.

Deep-sea Biology Symposium: Mining Digest

The Deep-sea Biology Symposium convened last week for its triennial meeting. Over the course of 5 days, participants shared the latest discoveries in deep-sea biology, ecology, and stewardship. Not surprisingly, deep-sea mining played a major role in the weeks discussion. Though it’s hard to capture the breadth of the topics discussed (and many presentations remain embargoed), I’ve selected a few key talks from the meeting of particular interest to the deep-sea mining community to highlight.

Read more: Deep-sea Biology Symposium: Mining Digest.

Our heart goes out to all members of the broader deep-sea mining community and your families affected by Hurricane Florence and Supertyphoon Manghut. 
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DSM Observer is a free online resource for deep-sea mining professionals, providing access to the latest news and information about the industry in a single place. Our monthly e-newsletter features updates on technology, business news, deep sea science, environmental issues, and policy.

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DSM Observer is published by Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, via a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. Editor-in-chief: Andrew Thaler
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