The deep seabed mining arena involves a collection of government, intergovernment, industry, scientific, academic, civil society and other interests. Since the start of the 21st century several factors have converged to propel deep seabed mining from a concept towards becoming a practical reality.
As of January 2020, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has issued permits and entered into 15-year contracts (several of which have been extended for an additional 5 years) for exploration for polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the deep seabed with 29 contractors.
Seventeen of these contracts are for exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone and Central Indian Ocean Basin. There are seven contracts for exploration for polymetallic sulphides in the South West Indian Ridge, Central Indian Ridge and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and five contracts for exploration for cobalt-rich crusts in the Western Pacific Ocean and the South West Atlantic.
The contractors are a mix of corporate enterprises and state-owned companies, with several governments keen to establish the rights to mine and to gain a foothold on the international seabed.
Click here for a full list of licenses granted to companies as of March 2020.
Click here for a list of companies with an interest in deep seabed mining as of May 2017.
The growing interest in exploiting ocean minerals has provided a boon to the deep-sea scientific community with numerous research contracts. Examples include:
- The Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI): A grouping of deep-sea scientists seeking to integrate science, technology, policy, law and economics to advise on ecosystem-based management of resource use in the deep ocean and strategies to maintain the integrity of deep-ocean ecosystems within and beyond national jurisdiction.
- Managing Impacts of Deep-Sea Resource Exploitation (MIDAS): The MIDAS Project was a multi-disciplinary project funded by the European Commission (2013-2016) involving marine research institutes across Europe, investigating environmental impacts of deep-sea mining in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
- A trans-Atlantic assessment and deep-water ecosystem-based spatial management plan for Europe (Atlas): An EU Horizon 2020 project running from 2016–2020. Atlas will provide essential new knowledge of deep-ocean ecosystems in the north Atlantic. This project will explore the world of deep-sea habitats (200–2000 meters) where the greatest gaps in our understanding lie and certain populations and ecosystems are under pressure.