Deep sea mining (DSM) is the process of retrieving minerals from the ocean floor at depths of up to 5km.

This can be done in one of two ways, depending on the type of minerals being retrieved. It can involve scooping up metallic modules from the sea floor or the more intrusive method of extraction from underwater geological features.

Unlocking deep sea deposits using these methods could be an important part of meeting future demand for metals. Such deposits are great examples of orebodies which we haven’t traditionally been able to access due to technological limitations, however these could contribute significantly to the future metal supply.

In order to ensure a smooth transition when accessing these potentially risky orebodies, a strong governance framework will be needed when it comes to deep sea mining; something that is currently missing.

Due to the distinctiveness of the deep sea, and the technologies involved in DSM, it is difficult to confidently assess the environmental, social and governance impacts of this type of mining, thus making a strong government framework difficult.

In terrestrial mining, government use existing projects to help assess the environmental and social risks.

In DSM there is currently no commercial-scale operation, meaning these precedents don’t exits. As such it is near impossible to know how DSM would affect the natural environment on the seafloor and sea life.




A new paper “Governing deep sea mining in the face of uncertainty”, written by researchers from the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, emphasises how little we know about the potential impacts of deep see mining and urges for stricter regulations.

According to the study’s lead author Dr Kung government frameworks need to accommodate for these unknowns and reflect the uncertainty of DSM.

Dr Kung acknowledged that developing appropriate regulations for DSM is an ongoing effort by many people worldwide.

“There is certainly a lot of effort by regulators to grapple with the unknowns of DSM,” he said.

Kung hopes his research paper will highlight some of the more critical issues associated with governing this emerging, and potentially very important industry.

It is essential to find a balance between the ever increasing demand for materials and the need to protect our world.

Bronwyn Reid | 4t Consultants | 5 May 2021