We Must Advance Deep-Sea Science for the Benefit of Humankind | 5 January 2021

On 1 January 2021, the world will herald the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). A new decade filled with the promise and potential to achieve a more sustainable future for our oceans.

The data collected through deep-sea marine research and exploration will play a critical part in realizing the objectives of the UN Decade, including advancing knowledge of marine biodiversity and ecological processes, and the impacts of climate change on deep-sea ecosystems.

But to address the current knowledge gaps in deep-sea ocean science, we will need concrete implementation strategies backed by tangible action plans. Only then can we strengthen existing mechanisms to ensure the sharing of data and research results and support informed decision-making processes.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is the UN Decade partner mandated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to promote and encourage the conduct of marine scientific research in the international seabed area, including facilitating the participation of developing States in deep-sea exploration and research programs. This will be critical to generate and use knowledge for the transformational action needed to achieve a healthy, safe, productive, and resilient ocean by 2030.

One of the key responsibilities of ISA is to manage deep-sea mineral resources prudently and in such a way as to benefit everyone. This is important because the rising demand for minerals is a key factor driving the accelerated interest in deep-sea mining that we have seen over the past several years. We are all well aware of the radical restructuring of energy supply and transmission systems required to meet the Paris climate target and the impact of this on the demand for raw materials.

ISA is now at the stage of developing detailed regulations to govern the exploitation of deep-sea mineral resources to help meet this growing demand. These include regulations on the financial terms for deep-sea mining and requirements for environmental impact assessments and environmental management plans to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment.

One of our most important assets in these efforts are data. In fact, one of the key contributions of ISA in this respect has been to harness the power of the industry involved in exploration work to gather critical scientific knowledge to inform the regulation and management of deep-sea resources.

An enormous amount of what we have learned about deep-sea ecosystems and the environment over the past 25 years has come from the exploration projects authorized by ISA. As an example, more than 800 research cruises have visited the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific alone, totaling more than 6,000 days at sea. It is through this research, which is broadly shared with all stakeholders, that we will be able,

collectively, to identify the best measures required to protect the marine environment now and into the future.

Last year, ISA launched the first ever global database of deep-sea flora and fauna – a repository of all the information on these ecosystems found by deep-sea explorers under contract by ISA. Through the DeepData database (www.isa.org.jm/deepdata), the international community has the opportunity to deliver transformative knowledge on the biodiversity of the seabed and to create a lasting legacy of new data, tools and training to further facilitate the effective protection of the marine environment.

As we head closer to the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the need to develop and execute concrete investment and implementation strategies to advance ocean science takes on a renewed urgency.

This November, the ISA Assembly consisting of all its 168 Members (167 Member States and the EU), are set to approve a Marine Scientific Research Action Plan developed by ISA that identifies six strategic research priorities to formalize the contribution of ISA towards the UN Decade.

This concrete implementation strategy outlines how ISA’s marine scientific research activities will strengthen the deep-sea scientific capacity of its members, particularly developing States, and inform decision making around the sustainable development of mineral resources.

In September, Argentina announced that it will partner with ISA to serve as the champion of the Action Plan to promote the shared goals of the UN Decade, and universally foster actions to advance deep-sea ocean science for the benefit of humankind.

ISA welcomes Argentina’s important contribution and is committed to working with all our stakeholders including Member States, observers, civil society, international and regional organizations, and the scientific community to deliver on the objectives of the UN Decade through the Action Plan.

The UN Decade provides an ideal opportunity for the international community to reinforce our global commitment towards increased efforts in deep-sea research, to deliver a more sustainable ocean for generations to come.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Ms. Stefanie Neno, Communications Specialist, ISA