The International Seabed Authority is responsible for organizing and controlling all mineral-related activities that take place in the international seabed area. This is an enormous task: the ocean floor in the international seabed area covers more than 50 per cent of the world’s surface! Mineral-related activities are also highly diverse: prospecting may target polymetallic nodule deposits and sulphides on the ocean floor or minerals embedded in cobalt-rich crusts; and mining may take place in depths of up to 6,000 metres and along biologically rich ocean floor areas, such as seamounts and hydrothermal vents.
The mandate of the International Seabed Authority is sufficiently broad to address these and other issues. While the Authority aims to encourage the development of seabed resources, for example, it also works to ensure that biodiversity within the marine environment is sustained. To maintain this balance, the Authority encourages and promotes marine scientific research in the international seabed area. The Authority also requires that research and scientific knowledge gained in this area be shared amongst the international science community so scientists around the world can benefit from the findings.
This concept of ‘common heritage’ is an important overriding principle of the International Seabed Authority. The international seabed area and its resources are designated as the common heritage of all mankind. The Authority ensures that any economic benefits gained from extracting mineral resources in the Area are shared between miners and the international community. It makes sense that any scientific understanding gained through research in this area be equally shared within the international scientific community.
|“If the concept of the common heritage of mankind is to mean anything, it is essential not only that the benefits of the resources of the deep seabed be shared amongst all States, but also scientific knowledge.” 10 December 2007, Secretary-General Satya N. Nandan|
Over the past decade, much of the Authority’s efforts have focused on encouraging study of the deep-sea environment and working with scientists to analyze and disseminate the results of such research. In addition, mining entities and collaborations that have entered into contracts with the Authority have led research cruises in the international area to learn more about mineral deposits and to test exploration techniques and new technologies in keeping with the Authority’s environmental guidelines for exploration and mining.
Scientists, researchers and technical personnel from developing countries have, in some cases, taken part in these research cruises and scientific studies. They have also been active participants in the technical workshops held annually by the International Seabed Authority to disseminate the results of such research and to identify initiatives for future collaboration.
In many cases, however, financial costs to conduct marine scientific research in the deep seabed have prohibited the involvement of developing nation scientists and other personnel. Lack of technology and expertise in a field that remains on the cutting edge of science may have also contributed to fewer researchers from developing countries being involved in deep-sea research initiatives.
As a global resource, scientific study in the international seabed area should include, wherever possible, scientists and researchers from both developing and developed countries. To achieve this objective, the member States of the International Seabed Authority established an endowment fund in 2006.