Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the role of ISA?

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) comprises 167 Member States and the European Union. All Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are members of ISA. ISA is the organization through which States Parties to UNCLOS shall organize and control all mineral-related activities in the international seabed area, also known as “the Area.”

What is the international seabed area or “the Area”?

The international seabed area – the part which is under ISA jurisdiction – is the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The international seabed area represents around 50 per cent of the total area of the world’s oceans.

How is ISA organized? What are its organs and functions?

Two principal organs establish the policies and govern the work of ISA, the Assembly, where all 168 members are represented, and a 37-member Council elected by the Assembly. The Council has two advisory bodies, the Legal and Technical Commission (30 members), which advises the Council on all matters relating to the exploration and exploitation of non-living marine resources, such as polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and the Finance Committee (15 members) that deals with budgetary and related matters.

Who can be a member of ISA?

Membership in ISA is open to countries and international organizations (e.g. the European Union) Parties to UNCLOS.

What are ISA’s mandate and policies?

One part of ISA’s mandate and policies is to promote the orderly, safe and responsible management and development of the resources of the deep seabed area for the benefit of humankind as a whole. In doing so, ISA has the duty to adopt appropriate rules, regulations and procedures to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from mineral exploration and exploitation in the Area. Another critical aspect of ISA’s mandate is to promote and encourage the conduct of marine scientific research in the seabed area and coordinate and disseminate the results of such research and analysis.

What is the current status of deep seabed mining?

No deep seabed mining operations have started anywhere in the world. Current exploration activities undertaken in the seabed area are aimed at gathering the necessary information on the location and quality of the seabed minerals and collecting all the necessary environmental information. To date, ISA has approved 30 contracts for exploration involving 22 countries and covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers of the seabed. This represents 0.7 percent of the international deep seabed area and 0.3 percent of the world’s oceans. Twelve of these contracts are sponsored by developing countries. Thirteen countries and one intergovernmental consortium currently have contracts for the exploration of polymetallic nodules, seven countries for the exploration of polymetallic sulphides, and five for the exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

What is the Mining Code?

Once completed, the Mining Code will provide a holistic regulatory framework for the exploitation of the resources in the Area. Furthermore, it will reinforce the provisions of UNCLOS, especially those concerning the effective protection of the marine environment and marine biodiversity and life at sea.

When will the Mining Code be finalized?

The finalization of the Mining Code is subject to the decision of the Members of ISA. The draft regulations must be provisionally adopted by the ISA Council and approved by all members of the Assembly. The final decision will be made by consensus. According to the current roadmap, it is envisaged that the draft Mining regulations could be adopted in 2020, with the implementation standards and guidelines issued after that.

When can we expect commercial deep seabed mining to begin?

Deep seabed mining can begin when the Exploitation regulations currently developed by ISA have been agreed upon, provisionally adopted by the ISA Council and approved by all Members of ISA at the Assembly. The Exploitation regulations will create the legal and technical framework for exploitation.

How does ISA contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

At the 2017 United Nations Conference on Oceans aimed at achieving one or more goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda, ISA registered seven Voluntary Commitments. Five are directly oriented to reinforce ISA’s efforts towards developing countries, particularly small island developing States, least developed countries and land-locked developing countries. They include promoting marine scientific research, enhancing the role of women in research, increasing the socio-economic benefits for small island developing States and supporting Africa’s blue economy.

What are the benefits of deep seabed exploration to humankind?

The benefits of deep seabed exploration to humankind extend far beyond simple knowledge of the mineral resources. They include scientific knowledge of the marine environment that will be critical to realizing all aspects of the blue economy and technological development.

What are the benefits of deep seabed mining to humankind?

Marine minerals have the potential to contribute to the well-being and socio-economic development of the people of all nations. Firstly, as the world’s population continues to grow, from 7 billion today to 9.6 billion in 2050, the demand for critical minerals will rise. Moreover, to achieve the objective of a future society based on renewable energy and technology, finding new sources of reliable, clean and ethically sourced mineral resources will be critical. Secondly, the UNCLOS has set aside the international deep seabed area as the common heritage of humankind to be utilized for the benefit of humankind as a whole. This means the financial and other economic benefits derived from mineral resources must be equitably shared among all states, including small island developing States, least developed countries and land-locked developing countries.

What is ISA doing to protect the marine environment?

ISA is taking all necessary measures under UNCLOS to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment, including marine biodiversity, from harmful effects which may arise from activities in the Area. This is a core part of ISA’s mandate. The Draft regulations for deep seabed mining will incorporate specific provisions to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment and conservation of marine biodiversity, human health and safety, and equitable sharing of financial and other economic benefits. In 2012, ISA also established a regional environmental management plan for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an area-based management tool comprising nine areas of particular environmental interests, where no mining activities will take place. ISA is in the process of developing regional environmental management plans in other areas where exploration contracts have been granted.

What will contractors need to do to protect the environment?

Contractors will be required to conduct an environmental impact assessment in line with the rules, regulations and procedures set out by ISA before they can begin any exploitation activities. Furthermore, the Draft exploitation regulations also include provisions on an inspection regime for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the applicable legal framework in line with the provisions of UNCLOS.