The Joint Action is implemented through two consecutive research projects which ran from 2015 untill 2022. Since 2018, the MiningImpact 2 project followed up on the results of the first JPI Oceans supported MiningImpact project (2015-2017). While the initial project investigated experimental and rather small disturbances of the seafloor over decadal timescales, the new project conducted a comprehensive monitoring programme to ensure an independent scientific investigation of the environmental impacts of a manganese nodule collector system by the Belgian company Global Sea Mineral Resources (DEME-GSR).
The fieldwork of the MiningImpact 2 project consisted of two research cruises. The first expedition took place in 2019 on the German research vessel RV SONNE, during which environmental baseline data were collected in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ) in the Northeast Pacific. Initially, the environmental studies in 2019 were planned to take place in parallel to a manganese nodule collector trial. That trial was, however, postponed due to a technical failure of the collector system. In the spring of 2021, MiningImpact 2 finally conducted the independent scientific monitoring of DEME-GSR’s first industrial nodule collector test.
After an evaluation of the MiningImpact 2 project in the fall of 2022, funders, supported by experts, policy makers explored the potential of a succcesor activity. This was complemented by a stakeholder consultation workshop in March 2023 at which representatives from NGOs and industry were consulted to provide their perspective on a third phase of the Joint Action. Following up, in April 2023 the JPI Oceans Management Board approved the successor phase of the Joint Action on the ecological aspects of deep-sea mining under the condition of support from four JPI Oceans member countries.
Since 2015 the JPI Oceans Joint Action has successfully demonstrated how integrated scientific research can be organized in two European trans-disciplinary research projects (MiningImpact I & II) and how marine research infrastructure can be utilized jointly and efficiently to tackle deep-sea research questions and close scientific knowledge gaps. With both MiningImpact projects having delivered valuable input into the ongoing development of an international Mining Code at the International Seabed Authority (ISA), JPI Oceans has made a significant contribution to generate the necessary evidence base underpinning the development of the international governance framework for the potential exploitation of deep seabed resources. By funding top-notch interdisciplinary science, JPI Oceans and its member countries have given the European science community a common approach to these global long-term negotiations, ensuring that global policies are based on the best available scientific knowledge.
The scientific findings of the first project were:
- Nodule ecosystems support a highly diverse fauna of sessile and mobile species.
- Faunal communities & environmental parameters show a high variability even on a very local spatial scale.
- Benthic fauna communities differ significantly between seamounts and nodule habitats.
- Loss of seafloor integrity by nodule and sediment removal generally reduces population densities and ecosystem functions.
- Biogeochemical remineralization processes and the productivity of the benthic community are both impacted by nodule removal.
- Disturbance impacts on nodule ecosystems last for many decades, affect numerous ecosystem compartments and functions
More details can be found in a booklet describing the final results of the project.
The last decade has seen a steady increase of interest in deep-sea mining to secure mankind’s future demands in raw materials. Several European countries, i.e. Belgium, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Russia, and a consortium of former Soviet Union countries, have registered claims with the International Seabed Authority to explore mineral resources in the abyss. The ISA is currently developing its international regulatory framework governing the exploitation of mineral seabed resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the “Mining Code”.
With deep-sea mining inevitably causing disturbances to abyssal ecosystems, because mineral deposits in focus cover extended areas of the inhabited seafloor that will be disturbed directly and indirectly by mining operations, it is important that international legislation is based on the best available knowledge. JPI Oceans aimed to contribute to the development of the Mining Code by filling knowledge gaps in the field.