The Hidden Gem, the world’s largest vessel dedicated specifically to mining the seafloor for minerals, is staging its first mining operation. It will depart Wednesday from the Mexican Pacific port of Manzanillo.
This follows the announcement late last week from The Metals Company that the International Seabed Authority granted permission to its subsidiary, Nauru Oceans Resources Incorporated, to begin pilot nodule collection in the Clarion Clipperton Zone between Hawai‘i and Mexico.
The initial mining test phase, scheduled to conclude by the end of the year, is another step in TMC’s strategy to pave the way for deep-sea mining. The company’s application to the ISA for an exploitation contract in July 2021 has resulted in a rush to complete and adopt mining regulations in July 2023. That would leave the world’s oceans exposed to the destruction caused by large-scale mining activities.
Civil society observers have repeatedly criticized the body for its lack of transparency and condemned this development, which involved approval of TMC’s pilot collection test by the ISA Legal and Technical Commission, a body that meets behind closed doors with no observers from civil society.
The commission had actually previously expressed concerns about the content and quality of the TMC’s environmental impact statement. Making such decisions behind closed doors effectively deprives many states and civil society of having a say in the future of the world’s deep-sea ecosystems, observers say.
“We are shocked and dismayed that the ISA would greenlight this process in one of the most important and fragile ecosystems on earth while we already grapple with multiple crises that are eroding the health of the ocean, including its capacity to act as a critical ally in the fight against climate change,” said Ornela Garelli, Greenpeace Mexico oceans campaigner. “Instead of protecting the ocean as the common heritage of humankind it is turning it over to corporate interests such as TMC, which, despite their own filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission, has demonstrated a callous disregard of the irreversible impact this industry poses to services the oceans provide including, critical carbon sinks, future medicine, and international fisheries for tuna and other species. We are all set to pay the price while TMC profits from its questionable relationship with the ISA.”
During the negotiations before the ISA, the Mexican delegation has shown its willingness to move toward approval of the mining code. It has also been cautious in recognizing the importance of having sufficient scientific information to support the indemnity of the marine environment should mining activity commence. But the delegation has not been sufficiently firm to express a position congruent with the precautionary approach, especially in this scenario, where it’s known that there is not enough scientific information on the impacts of the activity to ensure the protection of the marine environment.
“Mexico must take a leading role in the global effort to stop mining in international waters,” said Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Mexican government should work with Latin America and Caribbean countries to stop this destructive practice.”
According to reporting from The New York Times, TMC, one of the most ardent proponents of deep-sea mining, and its predecessors cultivated a 15-year-long relationship with the ISA. This includes preferential access to information that allowed it to gain control over some of the most valuable seabed tracts for future mining.
The company also reportedly had unprecedented access to international delegates as they debated agenda items, including the firm’s request for the authority to sign off on a plan to test mining equipment. The ISA has allocated roughly 200,000 square miles of seabed — an area larger than California — to developing nations to do exploratory work in the reserved areas, with nearly half of that space now under the effective control of TMC. The ISA’s latest authorization to NORI for exploratory mining is a dramatic result of TMC’s lobbying efforts and ISA’s complacency.
ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission, which approved this mining pilot, includes persons working for mining contractors and meets entirely behind closed doors, allowing no room for civil society to hold it to account. The ISA has regularly faced criticisms for a lack of transparency, accountability and inclusivity and for its close relationship with prospective deep-sea mining companies.
Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense are urging world leaders to step in and, at the very least, put in place a moratorium on deep-sea mining to protect the ocean.
Reference: Biological Diversity