The international seabed authority and deep seabed mining.

Author:Lodge, Michael

The deep ocean below 200 metres is the largest habitat for life on Earth and the most difficult to access. The sea floor, just like the terrestrial environment, is made up of mountain ranges, plateaus, volcanic peaks, canyons and vast abyssal plains. It contains most of the same minerals that we find on land, often in enriched forms, as well as minerals that are unique to the deep ocean, such as ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic nodules.

The existence of mineral deposits in the deepest parts of the ocean has been known since the 1860s. In Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo announced that "in the depths of the ocean, there are mines of zinc, iron, silver and gold that would be quite easy to exploit", predicting that the abundance of marine resources could satisfy human need. Although he was right about the abundance of the resources, he was most certainly wrong about how easy it would be to exploit them.

Serious attention was focused on deep seabed minerals in the 1960s, when American geologist John L. Mero published a book entitled The Mineral Resources of the Sea, in which he made the case that the seabed could become a major source of supply for meeting the world's mineral needs. This in turn led Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta to deliver a speech to the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, in which he called for the resources of the deep seabed to be designated as the "common heritage of mankind" and urged the creation of a system of international regulation to prevent technologically advanced countries from colonizing the seabed and monopolizing these resources to the detriment of developing States.

Ambassador Pardo's grand vision captured the Zeitgeist of the 1960s and was to become a major driving factor in United Nations efforts to elaborate a comprehensive regime for ocean governance between 1967 and 1982. In 1970, the General Assembly, in resolution 2749 (XXV), adopted the Declaration of Principles Governing the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof, beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, which reserved the seabed exclusively for peaceful uses. Following Pardo's advice, the Assembly also declared the mineral resources of the seabed as the "common heritage of mankind", to be developed for the benefit of mankind as a whole through international machinery to be established for that purpose.

After the initial euphoria of the 1970s, a collapse in world metal prices, combined with relatively easy access to minerals in the developing world, dampened interest in seabed mining. It would take another 24 years for the machinery proposed by the General Assembly to come into existence in the form of the International Seabed Authority, an autonomous organization within the United Nations common system, with headquarters located in Kingston, Jamaica. All States parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of...

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