Chapter 23 of the First World Ocean Assessment (WOA I) focused on marine mining, and particularly on established extractive industries, which are predominantly confined to near-shore areas, where shallow-water, near-shore aggregate and placer deposits, and somewhat deeper water phosphate deposits are found (United Nations, 2017a). At the time of publication, there were no commercially developed deep-water seabed mining (DSM) deposits but an assessment of mining leases and exploration activity was included. Since WOA I, the number of deep-water (depths greater than 200 m below the ocean surface) seabed exploration licenses has increased both within national jurisdictions of coastal, island and archipelagic States, and beyond in the Area (the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction) under the administration of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). For the first time, in 2017 deep-water seabed test-mining was carried out by Japan at a water depth of 1,600 m within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) (METI, 2017). The update in the present Chapter will focus on the nascent deep-water seabed mining industry and mineral deposits. Hereafter, we use seabed for deep-water seabed.
Environmental issues focused on impacts from dredging activities and a list of references for some mining operations were provided. However, WOA I could not provide an environmental baseline for DSM and considered that environmental, social and economic aspects were often not adequately understood with available data. Data on potential environmental impacts are still scarce and can differ greatly between mineral extraction from near-shore and seabed mining sites. Information on economic benefits, and to some extent social impacts, of mining is becoming progressively more accessible due to several initiatives promoting an increase in transparency of extractive industries.
In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be addressed on the basis of a global partnership. DSM activities may have implications for the achievement of SDGs 1, 5, 7–10, 12–14, and 17.