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The mandate of ISA is to administer the mineral resources and control and organize current exploration activities, as well as future mining activities, in the Area for the benefit of mankind as a whole.
Under Article 143(2) of UNCLOS, ISA is required to promote and encourage the conduct of marine scientific research with respect to activities in the Area and coordinate and disseminate the results of such research and analysis when available. This includes marine scientific research in relation to both living and non-living resources.
The commitment of ISA is reflected in its Strategic Plan for the period of 2019-2023 particularly in Strategic Direction 4 aiming to share data and information in an open and transparent manner (SD 4.3) and to promote access to non-confidential information and data, in particular those data relating to the marine environment (SD 4.4)
In 2002, the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) formally identified the need for the ISA to collect and centralize systematically all data and information on marine mineral resources. Preliminary discussions on how to operationalize such responsibility started soon after the signature of the first contracts for exploration of polymetallic nodules in 2001 (ISBA/8/C/6 para.12).
The Secretariat started to assemble the first Central Data Repository (CDR) in 2000, succeeding the initial ISA’s database of polymetallic nodule resources of the Area, called POLYDAT (ISBA/5/C/6). In 2003, following the LTC request, the CDR was then expanded to include information on all types of mineral resources under exploration namely: polymetallic nodules, cobalt-bearing ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic sulphides (ISBA/9/LTC/3).
In 2015, the LTC further recommended that a data management strategy be formulated as a matter of priority. The rationale for this echoed the need to ensure that the necessary information be accessible in the context of the development of the draft exploitation regulations and sound environmental protection measures (ISBA/21/C/16).
Subsequently, a dedicated working group was established within the LTC. Its main functions were to assist in the formulation of the data management strategy and related issues, and make recommendations for implementing routines and technical means to manage all data and information in a structured manner (ISBA/22/LTC/15).
After several years of work, a new database has been developed. This database, called “ISA Deep Seabed and Ocean Database” (DeepData) has been designed to serve as a spatial, internet-based data management system. Its main function is to host all deep- seabed activities related data and in particular, data collected by the contractors on their exploration activities as well as any other relevant environmental and resources related data for the Area
DeepData contains information on mineral resource assessment (geological data) and environmental baseline/assessment data. However, only the environmental data will be accessible to the public. This will include biological, physical and geochemical parameters of the marine ecosystems from the seafloor to the ocean surface. The geological data is formally identified as confidential in the regulations on prospecting and exploration of mineral resources (ISBA/19/A/9, ISBA/19/C/17, ISBA/16/A/12/Rev.1, and ISBA/18/A/11).
The types of data to be submitted to ISA as well as the procedures to be followed to ensure confidentiality of the data are also clearly provided in these regulations.
Contractors are required to submit the metadata and results of their sample analysis from exploration surveys in contract areas, using the reporting templates published by the LTC. Such templates are to be found in the Recommendations for guidance of contractors for the assessment of the possible environmental impacts arising from exploration for marine minerals in the Area (ISBA/19/LTC/8) and for the content, format and structure of annual reports (ISBA/21/LTC/15, Annex IV).
The reporting templates developed to facilitate submission of structured geological and environmental data are available on ISA’s website1. In addition to “structured data” extracted from templates, DeepData also hosts “unstructured information,” including maps, photographs, videos, graphics and relevant publications published in peer-review journals received from contractors.
The Geographical Information System (GIS) is part of DeepData functionalities. As such, it allows visualization of contract areas, reserved areas and designated areas of particular environmental interest (APEIs). GIS information accessible through DeepData also include sampling locations containing biological, physical and/or geochemical parameters of the seabed sediments and water column.
For clarity and transparency purposes, the ISA Secretariat will publish a file catalogue on regular basis, listing all publicly available data files contained in DeepData.