Seabed mining: 19 exploration licences and the first commercial project

Signal of change / Seabed mining: 19 exploration licences and the first commercial project

By Futures Centre / 17 Mar 2015

In our topic hub on the future of shippingwe’re asking how advances in seabed mining will affect ocean governance.


Seabed mining, a closely watched, if relatively unexplored territory, is set to emerge soon as a significant new use of the world's oceans. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted 19 exploration licences, and Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 project in Papua New Guinea is expected to be the first commercial deep-sea mining project to start operations within the next five years.


As commercial plans to exploit mineral resources on deep-ocean beds gather pace, marine researchers are increasingly concerned about the damage such projects might cause to the sensitive and little-understood ecosystems that thrive there. While some studies show that seabed mining offers an alternative that could be less environmentally destructive than land-based mining, scientists remain cautious about the potential environmental impacts. There are also concerns around the socio-economic impact that these mining activities will have on communities located in the proximity of mining spots, where onshore processing and transport infrastructure are likely to spring up.


Scientists are taking to the sea as part of a three-year, €12 million programme: Managing Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation (MIDAS), designed to address environmental and social concerns and to develop a set of guidelines for industry.


Image credit: Peter Thoeny

So what?

  • The emergence of seabed mining will affect the shipping industry by creating demand for a new generation of vessel designs to support, process and transport minerals extracted from the ocean bed. 
  • Shipping players that venture into seabed mining will face increased scrutiny from NGOs and local communities concerned about environmental and social impacts. 
  • The accelerated implementation of new ocean governance policies may also affect shipping companies, whether or not they are directly involved in the mining.


Click here to read the full report by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative exploring 15 signals of change and their potential impacts on the future of shipping.


Global Ocean Commission: Deep Seabed Mining 

Agreement reached on deep sea mining

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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