Taskforce on Ocean Governance

Marine Mining

Like many human impacts on the oceans, marine mining is expanding rapidly due to high demand and innovative technologies. Sand and gravel extraction from beaches and the seabed is growing as land-based sources run out. Sand dunes are also mined for uranium, platinum, and other valuable materials. Near-shore mining for diamonds and other precious materials is carried out by vacuuming up gravel on the seabed, sorting it, and then replacing the substrate. Oil and gas extraction has increased in both density and geographic scale as old fixed platforms are augmented by mobile drilling technologies that can take the industry to the edge of the continental shelf. The environmental impacts of many of these mining techniques are fairly well documented, including biodiversity loss, water pollution (both incremental and catastrophic), and noise pollution. Uncertainty is greater around untried industries, such as marine mining for phosphorous and deep sea mining for polymetallic nodules, cobalt crusts, or seafloor massive sulfides (SMS), which contain gold and other precious metals and are found around hydrothermal vents. The latter case gets considerable attention due to potential negative impacts on the deep sea ecosystem, which is still poorly understood by scientists. Interestingly, economic and political rather than technological issues have prevented Nautilus, the first deep-sea mining company from undertaking commercial exploitation of SMS deposits off of Papua New Guinea for almost a decade, but if they do move forward successfully, the stage is set for massive exploitation of the deep seabed. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regulates such mining outside of national exclusive economic zones, but the effectiveness of this regime remains untested. Many fear that, like other types of marine extraction, deep sea mining will be out of sight and out of mind for most people, leading to poor governance and the appropriation of what was designated as the common heritage of mankind by a few wealthy elites.  In this cluster, we approach marine mining as a scholarly topic from an Earth system governance perspective toward understanding what factors influence mining governance and what types of levers can be used to improve the environmental and social justice aspects of seabed mining. Related clusters include Conflict and Diplomacy, Ocean Law, and Trade and Globalization.

If you’d like to join the cluster, please click here to become a member. This will allow you to post information on the page and give you the opportunity to receive information and updates via the Oceans Taskforce listserve.

While we do not have funding ourselves, we do hope to foster joint projects via Working Groups, which would bring together cluster members to write grant proposals, put together collected volumes/special issues, or develop webinars, workshops, syllabi, or similar products. All projects should focus on the cluster topic and fit within the ESG Science Plan (http://www.earthsystemgovernance.org/research-agenda/). Working group members should come from more than one institution and should have sufficient expertise to accomplish project goals. Forming a working group can help you to expand your professional network. It will also provide mentoring from the cluster leaders and access to logistical support like web-conferencing from ESG headquarters. To submit a Working Group proposal, please fill out this form and send it to the cluster leader(s) listed below. If you’d like to propose a Working Group that fits in more than one cluster, please send it to the leaders of each cluster in a single e-mail. Scroll down for descriptions of active Working Groups.

Cluster Leaders:

Rak Kim
Utrecht University, Netherlands

DG Webster
Dartmouth, USA


Active Working Groups: