Blog Entry

Canadian Organizations Call on Canada to Halt Mining of the Seabed

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D. Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific Program Coordinator

Canadian mining companies are at the forefront of pushing to gain access to the deep seabed as the new frontier in mining. Canadian company Nautilus gained the first permit to mine hydrothermal vents on the deep seabed off Papua New Guinea before going bankrupt in 2019. Vancouver-based DeepGreen is the most vocal promoter of seabed mining in international waters of the Pacific, where the company is targeting million year old polymetallic nodules.

Now, nineteen Canadian organizations are joining concerned citizens of Pacific island nations and over eighty international organizations in calling for a halt to the issuance of exploration licences for mining in international waters and a halt to the development of regulations for deep seabed mining in these waters.

The call is for Canada to use its membership and influence at the UN’s International Seabed Authority to call for a moratorium on deep seabed mining, at least until scientists can fill the vast knowledge gap that currently exists about the many unusual and as-yet unknown life forms that live in the deep sea areas targeted for mining, and can better understand the relationship of deep seabed organisms to species throughout the water column to the surface.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) was created in 1982 and granted the right to issue exploration permits – 30 have been issued to date – and, eventually, mining permits for the seabed in international waters, known as the Common Heritage of Mankind. The ISA’s mandate was established at a time when even less was known than today about the abundance of life at great depths of 200 metres to 7 kilometres under the sea’s surface. It was thought that mining at these depths would not have much impact on biodiversity or wider marine ecosystem health. That view has changed significantly.

The rapidly expanding scientific literature on unique lifeforms dependent on hydrothermal vents, polymetallic nodules and deep sea mounts – all targeted for mining – is raising alarm over the impending loss of many species before their unusual characteristics and ecosystem roles have been studied, and deep concern over irreparable harm to the deep seabed habitat. Equally concerning is the growing understanding that life on the deep seabed is linked to marine life in the biologically rich mid-waters and the surface layers, species that coastal communities rely on for food security.

MiningWatch Canada and Oceans North reached out to Canadian organizations to join them in requesting that the Canadian government step up and become a strong voice for marine protection at the International Seabed Authority by calling for a moratorium on seabed mining.

For additional reading:

Open Letter Calling on Canada to Show Leadership and Support a Moratorium on Deep Seabed Mining