The Decade of Deep-Sea Exploration Has Begun | May 2020

By International Seabed Authority Secretary-General Mr. Michael W Lodge

We are entering an unparalleled decade of deep-sea exploration where advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity through renewed international collaboration, technology development, capacity building, and information transfer will be key.

With the global population expected to swell to 8.6 billion by 2030, the world is looking to the deep ocean for renewable energy solutions to meet growing resource demands.

The rich biodiversity and large mineral deposits found on the sea floor are creating exciting challenges and opportunities to further develop a sustainable future.

Advancing scientific knowledge for all humanity

The International Seabed Authority (ISA)—the UN body mandated to organize, regulate and control mineral-related activities in the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction—is at the forefront of efforts to advance scientific knowledge of the deep ocean.

In order to ensure dissemination of such knowledge, the ISA launched DeepData in July 2019, the primary global repository for deep-sea geological and environmental information. This scientific data, harvested over the last 40 years, will improve understanding of the natural characteristics of the deep ocean, and identify the best measures to safeguard marine environments from human activities.

A new decade of collaboration

The forthcoming launch of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), also known as the Ocean Decade coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO), presents an ideal opportunity to reinforce a global commitment towards increased and targeted collaborative efforts in deep-sea research. This is at the core of the ISA’s mandate, as is the mission to promote and encourage scientific research in the international seabed area and effective participation by developing States in deep-sea exploration and research programs.

Recognizing these synergies, the ISA has joined forces with IOC-UNESCO to achieve shared objectives, such as improved mapping of the seabed and enhancing ocean observing networks.

Fostering innovative partnerships for collective research platforms

As of today, most of the investment in deep-sea exploration comes from the private sector. Currently, 30 exploration contracts have been granted by the ISA in the international seabed area.

An essential part of our work is governing the participation of stakeholders and levering industry support in favor of rigorous scientific investigation. This will not only benefit our understanding and knowledge of deep-sea ecosystems and functions but will also help to inform decision-makers and the scientific community on how to anticipate and adjust to technological changes. This is critical, as tomorrow’s deep-sea operators will rely just as much on AI, big data, e-DNA, nanoscience and innovative sampling techniques as they do on conventional offshore technology.

Increasing participation of developing States through capacity development initiatives

To help foster participation and information exchange, in February 2020, we hosted the first international workshop on “capacity development, resources and needs assessment” in Kingston, Jamaica with a view to identify how to adjust activities to meet the scientific needs of developing States.

The decade of deep-sea exploration has begun. As the world looks towards meeting the objectives of the Ocean Decade, we at the ISA look forward to furthering international collaboration, industry partnerships and scientific knowledge, to ensure a sustainable future for all.