November 2018 · Volume 3, Issue 4                    Subscribe | Visit Website
A strange spoon worm, an elegant sea pen, a stalked crinoid, and two xenophyophores with brittle stars. Credit: Mountains in the Sea 2004. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.

Negotiations for Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Begin

“This is a chance to take a course correction while we still can…if we pull together, we can make it”. Rena Lee, president of the intergovernmental conference—fondly referred to as Madame Captain—set an ambitious, positive and suitably nautical tone to open historic negotiations on 4 September 2018 at the United Nations in New York. This first session of the Intergovernmental Conference began formal negotiations to develop a new international legally binding instrument, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the two thirds of the ocean that lie beyond national jurisdiction.
These negotiations follow more than a decade of discussions at the UN, including four Preparatory Committee sessions, which highlighted the need to better implement legal obligations relating to the study, protection and preservation of marine biodiversity. Fragmented and inconsistent sectoral and regional governance approaches have proved ill-equipped to cope as mounting pressures from resource exploitation are confounded by climate change impacts and pollution, and illegal, unregulated or poorly managed activities continue to wreak havoc on ocean ecosystems in the high seas.

Read more: All in the same boat: negotiations for biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction begin.

From the Editor: An update on Solwara I and a call for article pitches. 

This was a big month for deep-sea meetings, with workshops on risk management and high seas cable laying, as well as strong representation from the deep-sea mining community at NOAA's Ocean Exploration Forum. There's so much going on in deep-sea mining right now that it's tough for stakeholders to grasp the scale of the industry. To help, we created a simple info-graphic to put polymetallic nodule mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone and seafloor massive sulphide mining in Papua New Guinea into context. Which perhaps leads us to the next big question: What's going on with Nautilus Minerals, their vessel, and the status of Solwara I?

I reached out to Nautilus Minerals to get an update on their current progress. Despite Mawei Shipyard rescinding the ship building contract earlier this year, vessel construction continues and is approximately 83% complete. A representative from Nautilus estimates that initial production at Solwara I will be delayed past Q3 of 2019.

In this issue, Harriet Harden-Davies reports on last's month's convention to discuss Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, Rachel Pendergrass breaks down the latest research on microplastics in the deep sea, and I discuss the recent submerged cables workshop

As a reminder, our goal at the DSMObserver is not just to report on developments in the broader deep-sea mining community, but to highlight new and emerging voices among stakeholders. We have a budget for freelance writers, so if there's a topic or perspective you want to write about that hasn't been adequately covered, send me a pitch! I'd love to hear from you. 

Read more: An update on Solwara I and a call for article pitches.

Without "due regard", mining may get snagged on submerged cables.

Representatives from the International Seabed Authority, the deep-sea mining community, and the International Cable Protection Committee met last week in Bangkok for the Second Workshop on Deep Seabed Mining and Submarine Cables. As the world becomes increasingly more connected, ocean-spanning, high-bandwidth cables are becoming increasingly necessary to maintain a global telecommunication infrastructure. The Law of the Sea recognizes the freedom of all states to lay cables in the high seas. This can, of course, lead to conflict as cables may need to be laid (and in at least one case already are) across deep-sea mining leases in the area. 

UNCLOS also requires that member states exercising their freedom to use the high seas also act with "due regard" to other members conducting activities in the Area. 

While the first workshop, held in 2015, was focused on information exchange and the more pragmatic aspects of how these two industries work, the second workshop dug deeper into the details regarding what specific steps need to be taken to protect submerged cables, particularly in the CCZ. Discussions included notification procedures as well as the specifics of things like how wide a buffer needs to be around a submerged cable in the area.

According to one participant, the workshop was highly productive and they were optimistic that there was a clear path forward for both industries to act with due regard to each other's activities. 

The Honotua Cable that crosses CCZ Block 1, based on ISA’s maps. Image courtesy Business Wire.

Read more: Without “due regard”, mining may get snagged on submerged cables

Seabed Mining on the High Seas: What's the Risk?

Dr. Cindy Van Dover discusses the ecology and environmental context of deep-sea mining prospects.  
Representatives from academia, the mining industry, NGOs, the ISA, and risk management specialists met at MIT to discuss risk assessments for seabed mining. Attendees provided input into how the ISA might standardize and evaluate risk in environmental impact assessments for mining activities in the Area. The two-day workshop culminated with a public talk on the opportunities and environmental risks associated with mining on the high seas. 

Microplastics in The Deep Ocean

Giant gyers of floating plastic have long been at the forefront of the public conversation around ocean pollution, but there has been a dearth of research on the deeper issue of plastic that reaches below the surface. Since the onset of mainstream plastic production begin in the 1940s and 1950s, plastic pollution in the ocean has been a rapidly growing threat. A 2017 study on the production and eventual fate of all plastic estimated that of the 8300 million metric tons of virgin plastic produced by 2015, 79% of it had accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

Despite the constant influx of plastic to the ocean, the amount of surface plastic isn’t growing proportionally. Simulations from another 2017 study show that 99.8% of the plastic that entered the ocean since 1950 settled below surface level. Scientists have found microplastic contamination in the water column, in bottom-dwelling animals, and in ocean sediment, and a 2015 study of deep-sea sediment in North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean reported some of the highest microplastic concentrations reported to date.

Plastic ice bag found by a NOAA expedition to the Marianas in 2016. Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Read more: Microplastics in The Deep Ocean.

New Resources

Upcoming Events

Career Opportunities

  1. Application for a ship board training on board the RV Polarstern June 2019.
  2. MOF-ROK Training Opportunities.
  3. SIO At-Sea Training Oportunities.

The ISA shares its update on the Deep-sea Mining and Submarine Cables workshop held late last month.

Deep-sea Mining News in Brief

Courtesy The Economist.

Mining the deep ocean will soon begin.

(The Economist) Though their location several kilometres beneath the ocean surface makes the nodules hard to get at in one sense, in another they are easily accessible, because they sit invitingly on the seabed, almost begging to be collected.

Read More: Mining the deep ocean will soon begin


The Ocean No 6 returns to port in South China's Guangdong province on Nov 11, 2018. Photo courtesy

Chinese vessel collects cobalt samples in the Pacific

(Reuters) A Chinese deep-sea exploration vessel has returned to port in Guangdong after collecting samples of so-called cobalt-bearing crusts during a 138-day survey in the west Pacific, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

Read More: Chinese vessel collects cobalt samples in the Pacific: Xinhua.


Recent Press Headlines


All Hands on Deck!

Dr. Leigh Marsh presents her work on beaked whale gouges in the CCZ. Photo courtesy Dr. Diva Amon. 
Members of the broader deep-sea mining community were well-represented at the 2018 Ocean Exploration Forum. Dr. Leigh Marsh discussed her work on beaked whales gouges in the CCZ. Alexis Weining discussed potential for exploitation to harm cold water corals. I presented on my work with open-source instrumentation and its application in the deep sea. Dr. Diva Amon led a panel on empowering a global community of ocean explorers and led a workshop on her work with National Geographic and My Deep Sea, My Backyard. Shanee Stopnitzky, whose Community Submersible Project we featured a few months ago, was also in attendance. 

Check back here for the conference recording:

Polymetallic Nodule and Sulphide Mining to Scale

To better help stakeholders visualize the scale of Polymetallic Nodule and Seafloor Massive Sulphide mining, we created this short info-graphic highlighting the size of the vehicles and vessels (base on photographs and best available information) as well as the scope of the mining leases in the CCZ and Papua New Guinea with respect to the size of the ecosystems they're impacting.

A portion of the info-graphic is reproduced below. 

View the full info-graphic here: Polymetallic Nodule and Sulphide Mining to Scale.

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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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