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ISA Hosts Meeting to Develop Environmental Threshold Values for Deep-Seabed Mining

ISA Hosts Meeting to Develop Environmental Threshold Values for Deep-Seabed Mining

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has hosted the first in-person meeting of the Intersessional Expert Group (IEG), which was established by the Council for developing binding environmental threshold values at its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica. This three-day workshop was held on June 27–29, 2024, and is part of an ongoing process for the development of standards and guidelines mandated by the Council and led by the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC). The IEG comprises 30 experts from 19 different countries, including eight developing States.

Established in November 2023, the IEG is assigned to provide scientific and technical support to the work of the LTC in specific areas, including in relation to (i) the synthesization and review of existing information on environmental thresholds, (ii) the identification of appropriate indicators and (iii) the definition of threshold levels for deep-sea mining activities, including early warning thresholds.

The IEG has been tasked with providing inputs into three main areas, namely: (a) toxicity, (b) turbidity and settling of resuspended sediments, and (c) underwater noise and light pollution. Although the work undertaken is aimed at establishing threshold values for the exploitation of polymetallic nodules, it is expected that thresholds will be similarly developed for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulfide resources.

This important initiative received generous support through in-kind contributions from various governments and entities. Notable contributors include the China Deep Ocean Affairs Administration and the Second Institute of Oceanography of the Ministry of Natural Resources of China, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Global Sea Mineral Resources NV, and the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative. ISA exploration contractors played a crucial role by providing valuable data to support the workshop’s objectives.

This meeting provided the IEG members with an opportunity to progress their group discussions, align progress across subgroups and facilitate a common, comprehensive compilation of environmental baseline data contained in the ISA DeepData database, other public databases, scientific literature, as well as guidance and reports from other regulatory agencies and industries.

Establishing binding environmental threshold values is a crucial step in ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment. These values will set measurable standards to regulate the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining, aligning with the obligations set out by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1994 Agreement, and the rules, regulations, and procedures of ISA. It is expected that the participants will be able to summarize the progress achieved and outline the future steps necessary, including the timeline and structure for the report the LTC will prepare for the ISA Council.

Delivering remarks on behalf of ISA Secretary-General Michael W. Lodge, Mr. José Dallo, Director of the Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources, emphasized the importance of this initiative, stating, “The development of these thresholds is essential to manage the exploitation of mineral resources sustainably, ensuring the protection of marine biodiversity and the equitable sharing of benefits for the benefit of all humanity.”

Participants are expected to summarize progress and outline future steps, including the timeline and structure for the LTC’s report to the ISA Council, with outcomes that will inform LTC recommendations and contribute to the ongoing development of regulations for seabed mineral exploitation.


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