How is science contributing to the governance of deep-sea resources? | JPI OCEANS

How is science contributing to the governance of deep-sea resources?

2016.05.26

How is science contributing to the governance of deep-sea resources?

That was the key question at the workshop organised by JPI Oceans at this year’s edition of the European Maritime Day in Turku. 

Leading researchers presented how science is enabling societies to make more informed decisions about deep-sea resource use, by generating the fundamental knowledge about the deep-sea resources and ecosystems necessary for their protection and conservation. Moreover, they showcased how science is developing key concepts to ensure that the ocean is treated and regulated in an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable manner.

The workshop, moderated by French Management Board member Gilles Lericolais, was held against the backdrop of increased international interest to explore and exploit resources from the deep sea. At the same time, the international governance framework for regulating these activities is being developed with key negotiations about the exploitation of mineral resources taking place at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) and preparations underway for a new Implementing Agreement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to govern the conservation and use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

Prof. Anna-Katharina Hornidge from the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) Bremen and recent proposer of a COST Network on Ocean Governance for Sustainability highlighted how science can inform and shape these ongoing negotiations. As ocean governance is challenged by the growth paradigm resulting from growing demand for more resources in finite world, she pointed to the necessity of institutional change and transformative research in order to develop concepts and concrete restructuring plans for societal transformation towards a circular economic system.

First research results from the JPI Oceans Pilot Action to study the ecological impacts of deep-sea mining were presented by coordinator Dr Matthias Haeckel (GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel) and Prof Ann Vanreusel (Ghent University). Following four cruises to the Pacific over the course of 2015 revealed amongst other that effects of disturbances from polymetallic mining activities on deep-sea ecosystems will likely last for many decades and impact all levels of fauna (from bacteria to megafauna). Given these irreversible impacts for generations to come and the fact that mining activities seek to exploit non-renewable resources, deep-sea mining cannot conceivably be considered to be “sustainable” in an environmental sense.

Both scientists called on the ISA to take these research results into account and, furthermore, urged that the criteria used for designating marine protected areas need to be based on robust scientific knowledge about the availability of habitats, the present biodiversity and population connectivity. Only if these are considered can the deep sea ecosystems be effectively protected and conserved.

Despite these ongoing research activities, it became evident that the deep sea remains understudied, as Dr Henry Ruhl (National Oceanography Centre Southampton) pointed out. In the recent European Marine Board Position Paper Delving Deeper: Critical challenges for 21st century deep-sea research, Dr Ruhl and his colleagues argued that further research issues around deep-sea mining included population biology, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and ecological resilience and response. In particular, it still remained unclear what impact sediment plumes from mining activities will have on the deep-sea.

Following lively debate with the audience, it thus became clear that science is already delivering fundamental knowledge about deep sea resources and ecosystems and is generating new ideas and concepts that help to inform and shape the future global ocean governance framework. However, continued research will be necessary to ensure that this framework will be based on the best available knowledge.

Presentations of the workshop can be downloaded below: 

  • Anna-Katharina Hornidge, ZMT Bremen and Coordinator COST Network Ocean Governance for Sustainability
  • Matthias Haeckel, GEOMAR and Coordinator JPI Oceans Mining Impact Pilot Action
  • Ann Vanreusel, Ghent University and JPI Oceans Mining Impact Pilot Action
  • Henry Ruhl, National Oceanography Centre (UK) and European Marine Board Deep-Sea Working Group

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