From July 10-28, 2023, global leaders gathered in Kingston, Jamaica at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to negotiate international regulations on deep-sea mining (DSM). SOA was on the ground in Jamaica to participate in the Meetings and represent our global youth community standing in opposition to deep-sea mining.
After three weeks of intense negotiations and discussions, the ISA 28th Session Part II Council & Assembly Meetings concluded with big wins for ocean advocates regarding deep-sea mining, giving us hope for the future of our deep sea...
On July 21, 2023, the ISA Council—the executive policy branch of the ISA representing 36 of 168 member states—ended with no deep-sea mining regulations adopted, a major win for ocean advocates, NGOs, and scientists advising against the deep-sea mining industry. This delay to adopt a mining code came after ISA member states of the Council concluded that more time was needed to finalize mining rules and regulations.
The effort to postpone was led by champion countries of the ISA like Costa Rica, Chile, and France as they urged other countries to agree that no permits authorizing deep-sea mining in international waters should be granted until regulations are finalized. Despite the push for rapid adoption from pro-DSM member states—namely Norway, Mexico, UK, and Nauru—the ISA Council agreed that this will likely take place in 2025 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, mining industry leaders and invested parties like The Metals Company (TMC) were relying on the ISA to open applications for commercial operations this July as a result of the "2-year rule" loophole—a legal clause triggered in July 2021 when Nauru announced its intentions to begin deep-sea mining for profit.
Unfortunately, the ISA failed to close this loophole during July negotiations, meaning a mining company can still apply for a contract to mine, even in the absence of regulations. However, it is highly unlikely that permits would be approved until regulations are adopted.
Regardless, the future of deep-sea mining is looking grim for industry leaders like TMC, whose stocks dropped -20.3% on July 24 following the ISA Council's decision to delay the adoption of rules, regulations, and procedures to allow for the exploitation of deep-sea resources.
Unlike the Council, the ISA Assembly is the supreme branch of the ISA and represents all 168 member states. The Assembly retains the power to establish general policies to protect the environment from the impacts of mining. For this year’s Assembly, an agenda item was submitted by champion countries Chile, Costa Rica, France, Palau, and Vanuatu to facilitate a first-ever discussion on the protection of the environment, including a ‘pause’ on deep-sea mining.
Unfortunately, this critical debate was blocked by pro-DSM countries—particularly China—in a move that brought to the forefront the governance deficiencies of this body that are meant to safeguard the deep sea for the common heritage of humankind. Far more member states supported allowing the discussion than not, however, a lack of in-person attendance by enough member states to hold discussions resulted in an unproductive standstill for most of the week.
The Assembly ended with a finalization of the next meeting's agenda that will address the moratorium on deep-sea mining, the protection of the marine environment, and a review of the ISA. The next Assembly Meeting will be in July 2024.
Issues concerning the poor governance and lack of transparency of the ISA continued to beset both the Council and Assembly meetings. Significant restrictions were placed on the media as well as NGO and scientist observers attending the meetings, with key negotiations taking place (literally) behind closed doors. This lack of transparency severely limited the critical involvement of stakeholders and the broader public in discussions that significantly impact the marine environment.
Concerns continued to grow regarding the influence of prospective mining companies on the Secretariat’s decision-making process and the ISA's ability to act independently and in the best interests of the global community.
The three weeks of negotiations saw proposals and requests for agenda items being sidelined and a stalemate that lasted all week regarding whether the Assembly will be permitted to discuss the conservation of the marine environment.
To SOA and our partner organizations, it is clear that there needs to be an institutional reformation at the ISA that re-empowers member states, includes civil society, opens negotiations to the world, and shifts the focus of the ISA away from exploitation and towards research, capacity building, and non-invasive exploration.
While on the ground in Jamaica, SOA made valuable connections with fellow advocates and NGOs, provided media training to youth leaders, hosted critical conversations, delivered interventions at the ISA Assembly, and reported back on key developments to raise awareness. Our youth leaders were everywhere, making an indisputable impact across the entire conference center and beyond.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our policy team, SOA reached an organizational milestone at the ISA that allows us to expand our impact even more. On July 25, 2023, SOA became the first youth-led organization to receive official Observer Status at the ISA, joining 44 other Observer NGOs. This announcement was delivered with the kind support of Costa Rica’s Gina Guillén Grillo.
Observer Status means that SOA is now able to formally speak on behalf of our stakeholders, deliver interventions, and increase the size and presence of our youth delegation at the ISA during these critical discussions about deep-sea mining. Up until now, SOA was only able to observe silently, or speak and deliver interventions through our partners like Deep Sea Conservation Coalition who already obtained Observer Status at the ISA.
Now, SOA is able to expand our commitment to (literally) giving youth a seat at the table during important, ongoing global conversations deciding the future of our planet. We are so proud of our Youth Delegation—Daniel Caceres, Khadija Stewart, and Anne-Sophie Roux—who has been committed to amplifying the voices of concerned youth around the world against deep-sea mining. As the first youth-led organization to receive this status, we are honored to raise our voices and present our perspective formally.
On July 26, SOA delivered our first official intervention at the ISA with Youth Delegate, Khadija Stewart. In the video below, see Khadija's compelling speech on SOA's stance against deep-sea mining.
In parallel to the ISA Meetings, EcoVybz Environmental Creatives—founded by SOA Regional Representative for the Caribbean, Khadija Stewart—co-organized the first Deep Sea Youth Symposium in partnership with SOA Caribbean and SOA Hispanoamerica. The program’s overarching goal was to utilize all forms of media as a means to bridge the gap and connect youth to the importance of the ocean as well as create experiential learning on issues related to deep-sea mining.
From July 20-25, the event organizers hosted a 5-day capacity-building workshop, art exhibition, and field trips for 23 Young Ocean Leaders from 15 countries across the Caribbean and Hispanoamerica. Youth engaged in enriching intergenerational dialogue with ISA delegates, participated in presentations from experts across various organizations and sectors, developed new and valuable relationships, and gained comprehensive knowledge about the science, policy, and economics of deep-sea mining. The Symposium also yielded the opportunity to bring three youth leaders to attend the ISA Meetings for one day and youth from Argentina and Mexico hand-presented their DSM petition campaigns to their respective ISA delegates.
"As the symposium concluded, the overwhelming feedback from the participants spoke volumes about its transformative impact. Equipped with newfound tools, knowledge, and a robust network, these inspired youths are now poised to spearhead their campaigns and lead the conversation in their respective countries," said event organizer, Khadija Stewart.
Since the two-year rule went into effect, SOA and our partner organizations have been dedicated to advocating and campaigning against deep-sea mining to spread awareness and incite action to stop this destructive practice before it begins.
Collectively, we have made significant progress, with 21 member states—five of which have joined just in the last month—now having made official positions against deep-sea mining from taking place in international waters.
Countries aren't the only ones responsible for this momentum against deep-sea mining—the global community is taking a stand as well. Over the last month, the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, seafood industry leaders, numerous Indigenous groups, NGOs, scientists, 37 global financial institutions (worth €3.3 trillion of combined assets), and more have all banded together in opposition against deep-sea mining. It is clear our allies in this fight go beyond the scope of governments and elected officials.
The failure to approve a deep-sea mining code means that commercial mining licenses are unlikely to be approved until at least 2025. By then, we are hopeful that we can push the moratorium on deep-sea mining to a position where we don’t even get to a point where mining licenses are even considered.
Discussions on the moratorium for deep-sea mining will be postponed until the next Assembly meeting (a year from now) due to a lack of in-person attendance of Assembly members during the July meetings and the blocking of discussions from pro-DSM countries like China. In order for a vote for a moratorium to be proposed, a minimum of 85 member state representatives must be present, so it is absolutely crucial that we have 85+ member states attend the 2024 Meeting in person to help move discussions and decisions along.
The battle to protect the mysterious and unique ecosystems of the deep sea has reached a unique turning point. But this fight of a lifetime is not yet over, and we need everyone to remain involved.
The final meeting of the 28th Session at the ISA will be another Council Meeting, held October 30–November 8, 2023. SOA will be in attendance with our Youth Delegation to provide critical updates throughout the session and advocate for our global community against deep-sea mining. Meetings will resume again for the 29th Session in 2024.
The ocean's preservation is at a pivotal moment, and the engagement of youth-led organizations like SOA represents a significant step towards safeguarding its invaluable resources for present and future generations. SOA thanks all who have joined our campaign against deep-sea mining, signed petitions, sent emails to government officials, participated in events, and taken action to protect our deep sea. It is your collective voice that has been echoed throughout these challenging meetings and resonated deeply among member states.
These wins would not be possible without the support of this global community of ocean advocates, grassroots organizers, NGOs, government leaders, scientists, and beyond. Time and time again we are shown that your voice matters and above all, activism works.
While the July ISA Meetings have ended, we are just getting started.
If you’re ready to take action, here are a few steps you can take to prevent deep-sea mining:
Encourage your government and representatives to oppose the industry. More than a dozen exploration contracts issued by ISA are held by these countries: China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.
Divest from these deep-sea mining companies:
The Metals Company, formerly known as DeepGreen
UK Seabed Resources, acquired by Loke Marine Minerals from Lockheed Martin in March 2023
About Deep-Sea Mining:
About Deep Sea Mining by Deep Sea Conservation Coalition
What Is Deep-Sea Mining and Why Does It Matter? by SOA Founder & CEO Daniela V. Fernandez
Recent Government Movements & Announcements:
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