It may not have been greeted with the same fanfare as the release of Highway 61 Revisited, or received as much airtime as When I’m 64, but news of the adoption of Motion 69 in Marseille – calling for a ban on deep-sea mining – was music to the ears of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the broad coalition of concerned conservationists who had been clamouring for the world’s governments to change their tune in the run-up to the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress.

This was the biggest biodiversity summit since Covid-19 torpedoed plans to make 2020 a megayear for climate action and nature conservation. Governments and civil society groups voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion that FFI co-sponsored as part of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, which called on member states to put their collective weight behind a global moratorium on deep-sea mining. Touted in some circles as the putative solution to our seemingly insatiable energy needs, industrial-scale exploitation of the mineral riches embedded in the ocean floor could prove to be the climate and biodiversity equivalent of opening Pandora’s box.

FFI’s seminal report on the potentially damaging and irreversible impacts of deep-sea mining on marine ecosystems, published in 2020, has already laid bare the likely consequences of a headlong rush into the ocean depths. Pippa Howard, FFI’s Director of Extractives & Development Infrastructure, who has been among the fiercest critics of plans to plunder the seabed, expressed her delight at the result of the vote:

 

"The resounding support for the Motion sends a strong message to those who are trying to force this destructive industry into play: that there is no social licence to proceed and that the International Seabed Authority needs to take a long hard look at its mandate. They need to listen to the science and exercise restraint and common sense."
Pippa Howard Director, Extractives & Development Infrastructure

Notwithstanding the notable and incomprehensible abstention by the UK government, the vote has sent a resounding message to decision-makers, giving the strongest indication yet of the level of global opposition to deep-sea mining. This must surely be a wake-up call for those who are inclined to ride roughshod over public opinion and should give pause to the International Seabed Authority, which appears to be sleepwalking towards the deadline date – two years hence – at which commercial mining of the seabed will automatically be given the green light.