Biodiversity and Environmental Monitoring

The number of species of flora and fauna,  the enormous diversity of genes in these species and the different ecosystems in the ocean are all part of a biologically diverse realm of which we have very little data. This is even more so in the deep oceans where extreme abiotic conditions including enormous pressures, eternal darkness and low ambient temperatures as well as a scarcity of nutrients have led to the evolution of highly adapted life forms in the abyss.  These communities form very specialized ecosystems in the deep ocean.   

The ISA’s Regulatory and Monitoring Role

The International Seabed Authority  has the responsibility to establish international rules, regulations and procedures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from activities in the Area, and to protect and conserve the natural resources of the Area(link) and prevent damage to the flora and fauna (that is, the biodiversity) of the marine environment.

In 2011, the Council of the Authority considered a proposal for an environmental management plan for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone submitted by the Legal and Technical Commission. The plan included the establishment of nine areas of particular environmental interest intended to protect the biodiversity and ecosystem structure and functioning of the Zone from the potential impacts of seabed mining.  The Environmental Management Plan (EMP) was adopted by the Council in 2012.

The ISA currently has an Atlas of Abyssal Megafauna and will continue to update and expand the Atlas  of to include Meiofauna and Macrofauna in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.

Future related works

The products from these workshops are expected to advance the understanding of environmental baselines in the CCZ, to support the environmental management plan (EMP) and to enable the Authority to make periodic assessments of the state of the environment as activities progress.  A similar series of workshops are envisaged with respect to polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crust deposits in areas where the Authority has entered into exploration contracts.

These workshops bring together contractors and taxonomic experts for different faunal groups to discuss and make recommendations on the varying taxonomic standards applied by contractors.  Their reports enable the Authority to assemble biodiversity data collected by the various contractors, to create spatial repositories based on standardized taxonomic classifications, and take informed decisions on environmental management in exploration areas, regional zones with large concentrations of contractors (such as the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone [CCZ]), and subsequent mining areas.  

Ongoing work includes the updating and expansion of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone Atlas of Abyssal Megafauna to include Meiofauna and Macrofauna.

Protecting Deep-Sea Biodiversity

To assess potential effects of their  activities, contractors have to gather environmental baseline data as exploration activities progress.  The collection of biological baseline data, however, requires considerable taxonomic expertise, especially since a large proportion -possibly the majority- of species is still unknown to science. 

To ensure taxonomic standards are being met by the contractors in their baseline studies of the biological components in exploration areas, it was decided to convene three taxonomic workshops on the megafauna, macrofauna, and meiofauna in contracted areas.  The first taxonomic workshop on megafauna was held at the Marine Research Department of Senckenberg am Meer in Wilhelmshaven, Germany from 10th to 15th June 2013 and focused on megafauna associated with polymetallic nodule  (link to workshop documents) deposits in the Area, and in particular in the CCZ.

Useful Links