Guardians of the Deep: Youth Leaders Safeguarding our Seas

Demonstration in front of TMC and Allseas Vessel The Hidden Gem, by youth leaders aboard the Peace Boat. Photo by Peace Boat (an SOA Partner).

On the late afternoon of October 30th, I tuned in to the ISA WebTV. I was looking forward to the start of the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) 28th Session Part III – Council Meeting, a gathering of state representatives and vested observers from around the world to discuss the rules and regulations for Deep Sea Mining, which have been under development since 2014. Even from my little home office on the other side of the Atlantic, I could feel that the atmosphere in the ISA chamber was charged, as I messaged my team on the ground in Jamaica with excitement about the United Kingdom’s announcement. Just before the meeting began, the UK had declared its new stance on deep-sea mining, becoming the 23rd country to join the call for a moratorium, precautionary pause, or ban against deep-sea mining. 

This announcement marked a significant shift in the UK’s position, and a step towards ensuring that we approach this emerging industry with the caution it demands. For the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) this session held particular significance. As a relative newcomer to the International Seabed Authority’s negotiations, we had just received our observer status during the last ISA Assembly meeting in July 2023. As such, this meeting marked our first Council meeting as an observer organization and us as the first youth-based organization to secure an observer seat, a testament to our commitment to active engagement at the ISA. With our recent observer status, our pledge is to ensure the inclusion of youth representatives from nations that are underrepresented in the ISA negotiations.

The SOA Delegation at the October – November 2023 ISA Meeting in Kingston. Left to write – Sweelan Renaud, Daniel Caceres Bartra, Travis Gardiner, Khadija Stewart, and Anne-Sophie Roux. Photo by SOA.

As the week unfolded, the Council’s discussion evolved, focussing on crucial issues concerning the development of the mining code (the set of rules and regulations) currently on an accelerated timeline with many states pushing for completion by July 2025. Key debates emerged, including whether compliance oversight of mining activities should be independent or managed by the states themselves, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge and the necessity for Indigenous Peoples to grant free, prior, and informed consent (which SOA and many of our partner organizations strongly advocate for), and the formulation of effective Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) along with strategies for mitigating and remediating environmental damage. 

SOA and other members of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition are strongly advocating for a moratorium on deep-sea mining and to have a moratorium in place (instead of the mining code) as soon as possible. There is still a severe lack of scientific understanding of deep-sea ecosystems and the potential effects mining will have on them.

Our rallying cry urged governments to uphold international commitments to safeguard marine ecosystems, aligning with their mandate under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to preserve and protect the marine environment. 

Graphic developed by Fanny Didou, for SOA Europe’s Campaign Against Deep Sea Mining in 2022, funded by an SOA Microgrant.

As we continue to champion a moratorium, our campaign isn’t confined to lofty discussions and policy debates. We are getting up close and personal. With a youth-driven and locally focused strategy, we’re setting up for the next exciting chapter. We plan to replicate our grassroots success stories in influential African and Caribbean countries, recognizing the pivotal role they can play at the ISA. And to supercharge our efforts, we’re dedicating funding for grassroots youth initiatives in these regions. We will also pour resources into ramping up our participation in ISA meetings. Our strategy is to harness the power of connected youth networks, empowering them with opportunities, and amplifying their influence on pressing policy matters, like the future of deep-sea mining.

Deep Sea Mining Perspectives Event in Cameroon, funded by an SOA Microgrant. Photo by SOA.

As we look ahead to 2024, our vision is clear: to bolster the global campaign against deep-sea mining by growing the coalition of countries in favor of a pause, moratorium, or ban. If you are eager to join our cause, you can make a difference by staying informed, participating in social media and grassroots actions, and sending letters to your representatives. Visit our website for more information and feel free to reach out to my team directly. 

Together, we must demand that our institutions prioritize the long-term protection of the marine environment over the lure of short-term profit from this risky emerging industry. The ocean is counting on us as, guardians of the deep.

“Um mural pelo Oceano Profundo” – Defend the Deep Mural in Lisbon, created by the artist Gonçalo MAR during the UN Ocean Conference with an SOA Microgrant. Photo by SOA.

This blog was published on #DeepDay2023. This special day not only highlights ongoing activities within the deep-sea community but also takes a deep dive into the vast expanse of our planet’s largest habitat. Find out more here.

Emily leads Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Global Campaign Against Deep-Sea Mining. She is a Marine Ecologist with over a decade of experience in the government and non-profit sectors.

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Date Published: 16th November 2023