May 2019 · Volume 4, Issue 5                       Subscribe | Visit Website
Delegates for the Development of Standards & Guidelines Multi-stakeholder Workshop. Photo courtesy ISA.

Setting the Standard: Progress on the development of Standards and Guidelines for the ISA Mining Code

In the impressive Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria, over 80 national delegates, members of the International Seabed Authority Secretariat, contractors, industry professionals, NGO representatives and academics, covering a wide range of skills and expertise, gathered last week. They were tasked with not only prioritizing the list of Standards and Guidelines to support the implementation of the Exploitation Regulations, but also to create a process for their development. They had their work cut out for them, and yet most departed three days later feeling some sense of accomplishment.

While substantial progress has been made since the first issue of the Exploitation Regulations in 2014, the absence of accompanying Standards and Guidelines has called into question whether a functioning regulatory system could exist without everything in place. This workshop was an important milestone towards overcoming that hurdle.

Read more: Setting the Standard: Progress on the development of Standards and Guidelines for the ISA Mining Code.

From the Editor: Setting standards, breaking records, and a haunted deep-sea mine?

Last week, delegates met in Pretoria, South Africa to continue developing standards and guidelines for the mining code and discuss how to manifest the ideals of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and the mandate that resource be collected for the good of humankind. Dr. Diva Amon reports on the outcome of that meeting. 

This May, we have two features from the periphery of the deep-sea mining community. The first dives into a new record for the world’s deepest diving submersible and the implications of private individuals now having the capacity to deploy full-ocean capable vehicles. We also look at the development of offshore diamond mining and how it parallels and diverges from the deep-sea mining industry.

And for something truly out of left field, we’ve got a bit of a pop culture oddity. On Tuesday, Universal Orlando, one of the largest amusement parks in the world, announced that the theme of one of their 2019 Fright Night haunted houses will  be “Depths of Fear”. According to Universal: “The workers of a deep-sea mining company have found themselves in a dire situation. They’ve delved too deep and encountered a parasitic race of creatures that turn out to be deadly. Panic ensues as you find yourself encountering infected miners and acidic creatures. The pressure builds as the self-destruct sequence counts down to the inevitable implosion of the facility.”

Read more: From the Editor: Setting standards, breaking records, and a haunted deep-sea mine?

Diamond mining moves offshore and into the deep

A seafloor crawler prepares to launch. Photo courtesy De Beers group.

Of the coast of Namibia, in barely 200 meters of water, an entirely different kind of deep-sea mining is taking shape. The target is neither precious metals, rare earth elements, or the minerals destined to supply next-generation batteries and power cells, but diamonds. The company is De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer, and they currently operate the largest underwater mining robots in the world.

Offshore diamond mining in Namibia, which began in 2002, has a nearly two-decade head start on the nascent deep-sea mining industry. Though it differs from mining for resources like polymetallic nodules, seafloor massive sulphides, and cobalt-rich crusts in substantive ways, the industry faces many of the same challenges and serves as a useful proxy for a mature marine mining industry.

Read more: Diamond mining moves offshore and into the deep.

The future of Nautilus may be in question, but environmental baseline studies continue at Solwara I.

Nautilus Mineral's future may still be up for auction (as in the last several issues, we reached out to multiple representatives from the company, all of whom declined to comment), but the environmental baseline work they initially funded continues apace. In the last month, two major research papers were published that help shed additional context on the complex and interconnected ecosystems of the deep Western Pacific. Not surprisingly, both came out of work started in Dr. Cindy Van Dover's lab (disclosure: I was one of Dr. Van Dover's graduate students).

In An environmental baseline for food webs at deep-sea hydrothermal vents in Manus Basin (Papua New Guinea), Loïc Van Audenhaegea, Andrea Fariñas-Bermejoa, Thomas Schultz, and Cindy Lee Van Dover examine the food webs of animals associated with seafloor massive sulphides in Papua New Guinea. Though there is currently no timeline for mining at Solwara one in the wake of Nautilus Minerals' financial troubles, this baseline will serve as an important benchmark for understanding future changes to these ecosystems. 

Lepetodrilus limpets collected from the Lau Basin. Courtesy Plouviez et al. 2019.

In Amplicon sequencing of 42 nuclear loci supports directional gene flow between South Pacific populations of a hydrothermal vent limpet, Sophie Plouviez, Abigail LaBella, and their team used high-resolution genetic sampling to assess gene flow across the South Pacific for a species of limpets common on seafloor massive sulphides in the region. Like several other similar studies, they found that the limpets can move out of Manus Basin (over generational time scales, adult limpets aren't crawling out of the basin), but do not move back in. 

Both papers are published Open-Access. 

New Resources

Upcoming Events

Career Opportunities

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  2. (NORI) At-sea on-board placements to two candidates.
With little fanfare, Chinese deep-sea mining vehicle sees successful trial.
Deep-sea Mining News in Brief

 Microbes from deep-sea sponges could be a breakthrough in the fight against superbugs. Photo courtesy NOAA.


Scientists fear impact of deep-sea mining on search for new medicines

(The Guardian) Bacteria from the ocean floor can beat superbugs and cancer. But habitats are at risk from the hunger for marine minerals.

Read more: Scientists fear impact of deep-sea mining on search for new medicines.


Secretary-General Michael Lodge. Photo courtesy ISA. 

Deep sea marine science is key to unlocking the potential of our oceans

(Reuters) We are all dependent on the ocean for survival. Together, we must build capacity to address knowledge gaps

Read More: Deep sea marine science is key to unlocking the potential of our oceans.

Recent Press Headlines

(Reuters) Deep sea mining boss says new law could be adopted next year.

(Mining Technology) The ISA is drafting new environmental regulations to govern deep sea mining.

(Business Maverick) South Africa eyes sunken mineral treasures

(China Dialogue) Will large protected areas save the oceans or politicise them?

(Earth and Space Science News) Underground Robots: How Robotics Is Changing the Mining Industry.

(TradeWinds) De Beers ups ante on nascent race for deepsea treasure.

( Lunar gold rush is about to start—and we could exhaust the solar system in less than 500 years

(The Diplomat) Might China Withdraw From the UN Law Of The Sea Treaty?


Privately funded human-occupied vehicle returns from Challenger Deep

The Triton 36000/2 Hadal Exploration System. Photo courtesy Triton Submarines.

For only the third time in history, a human-occupied vehicle made the 11-kilometer journey into Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean, and, more importantly, returned. Its occupant, investor Victor Vescovo, became the fourth person, behind Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in the Trieste, and James Cameron in the Deepsea Challenger, to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. With over four hours of bottom time, he now also holds the record for the most time spent at the bottom of the world.

What sets Vescovo’s dive apart from other record-setting dives to Challenger Deep was its funding. Past dives have either been military partnerships (in the case of Trieste) or public/private/foundation partnerships. Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger expedition was funded through private equity as well as organizations like National Geographic with support from US agencies like NOAA and the National Science Foundation. Vescovo’s venture appears to be entirely funded by private individuals.

Read more: Privately funded human-occupied vehicle returns from Challenger Deep.

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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
Copyright © 2019 Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, All rights reserved.

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