Canada is joining the tide of nations calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining in the high seas as an international summit gets underway Monday to decide on the issue.

“The protection, conservation, restoration and sustainable use of ocean ecosystems is essential to all life on Earth,” said Mélanie Joly, minister of foreign affairs; Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of natural resources; and Joyce Murray, minister of fisheries and oceans, in a statement released Monday.

It’s critical the international community recognizes its collective responsibility to safeguard the health of the shared global ocean for future generations, the ministers said, as the International Seabed Authority (ISA) meets during the month of July.

This month’s summit is a last-ditch attempt by the international community to finalize regulations for deep-sea mining. The international community has spent the last two years striving to meet a deadline set to expire this month for mining rules and environmental protections around extracting metals off the seafloor.

The frenzied effort to develop the mining rules so rapidly was triggered after the small Pacific island nation of Nauru and its Canadian industry partner, The Metals Company, took advantage of a legal provision referred to as the “two-year rule."

The rule allows applicants to push the ISA to come up with a mining code within 24 months or allow industry applications to go ahead, regardless or whether any regulations are in place.

Canada has joined over a dozen nations, including France, Germany, Chile and a host of Pacific island nations, as well as 700 international scientists and a multitude of environmental organizations calling for a pause or ban on deep-sea mining in shared international waters.

Critics argue the ISA’s draft framework does not include enough rigorous regulations, enforcement and monitoring mechanisms, and scientific understanding of the deep-sea ecosystem and the potential impacts from industrial extraction don’t yet exist.

“Canada supports a moratorium on commercial seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction and will not support the [ISA’s] provisional approval of a plan of work,” the ministers said.

Canada has reiterated its stance calling for a pause on industrial deep-sea mining in shared international waters as the International Seabed Authority launches critical meetings on industry regulations this week.

The federal government’s position is consistent with its stance on commercial seabed mining in domestic waters and with what it told Canada’s National Observer in February at IMPAC5, a global ocean conservation summit in Vancouver.

Environmental groups and the science community fear deep-sea mining could result in the loss of unique and important species due to the destruction of their seafloor habitat. That includes a multitude of marine creatures whose habitat could be destroyed even before they’ve been discovered.

In addition to the physical destruction of the seabed, plumes of sediment, metals and toxins would be released into the water column, endangering marine life, including commercially valuable fish or species linked to the food security of coastal nations, critics say.

Canada recognizes the importance of marine ecosystems as a climate regulator and will continue to lobby for and take a precautionary approach to development — an approach that aligns with efforts to combat climate change and pollution and to protect biodiversity and habitats, the ministers added.

Environmental organizations welcomed the federal government’s declaration, noting it was a critical step in protecting ocean biodiversity.

“Over the next three weeks at the ISA, governments must choose to keep one of the last untouched ecosystems out of the clutches of another extractive industry,” said Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign.

“We encourage the government to hold the line and help send a clear signal that the era of ocean destruction is over.”

Canada has made many commitments to protect nature and has been a champion of ocean conservation at home and around the world, said Susanna Fuller, vice-president of conservation and projects at Oceans North.

“We’re happy to see our country now step up to further protect the deep sea, which will have a significant impact on how the negotiations at the ISA unfold this week,” Fuller said, noting Canada isn’t sponsoring any deep-sea mining contracts and doesn’t hold any exploration rights in international waters.

Canada will continue to negotiate in good faith to develop regulations and measures that also prevent environmental damage from mining activities moving forward but won’t support the ISA’s plan in its current form, the ministers said.

“Seabed mining should take place only if effective protection of the marine environment is provided through a rigorous regulatory structure, applying precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches, using science-based and transparent management, and ensuring effective compliance with robust inspection mechanisms,” they said.

Check back for further updates on this story.

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

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I looked up the paper written about this - where they tried disturbing the an area in about 1990 and checked it out 26 years later, found it still disturbed.
Some life was actually more abundant, life that fed on the sediment; stirring that up was good for them.
The largest life-forms were the most reduced in numbers, down to about 40% of their pre-disturbance count.

So, on the one hand, the effects are significant, do last for decades. On the other, it's not like clear-cutting a forest.

But the things that most impressed me were the sheer size of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone: 4.5 million square kilometres. That's the size of Quebec, Ontario, and the three Prairie provinces, all put together.

1.5M have already been set aside forever. 2M are not yet discussed; just 1M sq. km have been discussed for mining.

Of that 23% of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, I have to say that we won't really know how much damage mining does, until we mine, say 0.1% of it, that's 1000 sq. km. And, for the first decade, just half of that, because the mining should go not like forest clear-cutting, but in a checkerboard pattern, only every second square mined, so that life can re-invade from the control areas afterwards.

Mine those 500 sq. km with different techniques and technologies, check them for decades afterwards. Miners expect that setting up a new mine takes 15 years; this one may be longer. Or be called off.

But there's an argument in favour of it: the metal down there is almost pure. It doesn't have to be smelted. The production of metal would take 20% or 10% of the carbon output of most ores. And if we don't get our metals from the sea, they'll rip up a lot of landscape, instead.

I'm not sure this ever becomes an ecological problem. The nodules are mostly Manganese, which we need to increase our output of by like 10%. It's Lithium that we need 500% more, and they don't have that. We need lots of copper, and they have some. I can see the whole thing burning out, though, because it just doesn't pay.