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Deep Sea Mining

What is Deep Sea Mining?

Deep sea mining involves removing mineral deposits and metals from the ocean’s seabed.

“According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the extraction of mineral resources from the ocean below 200 metres is called deep sea mining”

 What are the proposed methods to conduct deep sea mining?

According to Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSSC), an initiative formed in 2004 to safeguard deep-sea ecosystems, the seabed can be mined in three ways:

  1. Extracting metals from polymetallic nodules on abyssal plains: Abyssal plains are under water plains on the sea floor. Polymetallic nodules contain a variety of metals including manganese, iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, lead and zinc, and small but significant concentrations of molybdenum, lithium, titanium, and niobium, among others.
  2. Stripping cobalt crusts from seamounts: Scientists believe that under water mountains formed through volcanic activity are potentially rich in cobalt. Cobalt crusts accumulate at depths of between 400 and 7,000 metres. Seamounts are also rich sources of iron, manganese, nickel, copper and various rare metals, including rare earth elements.
  3. Extracting polymetallic sulphides from hydrothermal vents: These are also called sea floor massive sulphides and are rich in copper, iron, zinc, silver and gold. Active hydrothermal vents are also homes to unique ecosystems, containing chemosynthetic bacteria, giant tube worms, crustaceans, molluscs and other species- many believed to be endemic to the vents.



Hydrothermal vents are fissures on the seabed from which geothermally heated water discharges. They are commonly found near volcanically active places, areas where tectonic plates are moving apart at mid-ocean ridges, ocean basins, and hotspots.


International Seabed Authority (ISA): 

       It is an international organization established in 1994 to regulate mining and related activities in the international seabed beyond national jurisdiction, an area that includes most of the world’s oceans.

       The ISA came into existence upon the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which codified international law regarding territorial waters, sea lanes, and ocean resources. 

       Headquarters: Kingston, Jamaica

       Members: As of May 2023, ISA has 169 Members, including 168 Member States and the European Union.


       The ISA is responsible for granting licenses and regulating activities related to the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources in the international seabed. 

       Its ensures that these activities are carried out in a manner that protects the marine environment and promotes the equitable and efficient utilization of resources.

 Key facts about the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS):

       UNCLOS, also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea Treaty, is an international agreement that establishes a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.

       It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas, establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. 

       UNCLOS became effective on 16th November 1982.

       UNCLOS covers a wide range of issues, including:

       The definition of maritime zones, such as the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone, and the continental shelf.

       The rights and responsibilities of coastal states and flag states.

       The conservation and management of marine resources.

       The protection of the marine environment.

       The peaceful settlement of disputes.

 UNCLOS created three new institutions:

       International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea: It is an independent judicial body established by UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes arising out of the convention.

       International Seabed Authority: It is a UN body set up to regulate the exploration and exploitation of marine non-living resources of oceans in international waters.

       Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf: It facilitates the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) in respect of the establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.

 Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) is a region spanning 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) across the central Pacific Ocean at depths of 4,000 – 5,500 metres.

       It is a habitat for cetaceans, including baleen (mysticetes) and toothed whales (odontocetes).

       Up to 30 cetacean populations, including globally endangered species like blue whales, can be found in the CCZ, where 17 exploratory deep-sea mining licenses have already been granted.

India has been allotted a site of 75000 square Km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for the exploitation of Polymetallic Nodules (PMN).


Polymetallic Nodules:

       Polymetallic nodules (PMN) are also known as manganese nodules.

       They are potato-shaped, largely porous nodules found in abundance carpeting the sea floor in the deep sea of the world oceans.

       Besides manganese and iron, they contain nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, molybdenum, cadmium, vanadium, titanium.

       Of these metals nickel, cobalt and copper are considered to be of economic and strategic importance.


Deep Ocean Mission


       With a view to explore deep ocean for resources and develop deep sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the proposal of Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) on “Deep Ocean Mission” at an estimated cost of Rs. 4077.0 crore for a period of five years to be implemented in a phase-wise manner.

       The estimated cost for the first phase for the three years (2021-2024) would be Rs.2823.4 crore.

       Deep Ocean Mission will be a mission mode project to support the Blue Economy Initiatives of the Government of India.

        The aim of Deep Ocean Mission is to help India in achieving target of over Rs. 100 billion “Blue Economy” through its ocean resources.

 Major Objectives of Deep Ocean Mission

       To address issues arising from long term changes in the ocean due to climate change

       To develop technologies for deep-sea mission of living (biodiversity) and non-living (minerals) resources

       To develop underwater vehicles and underwater robotics

       To provide ocean climate change advisory services

       To identify technological innovations and conservation methods for sustainable utilization of marine bioresources

       To develop offshore based desalination techniques

       To develop renewable energy generation techniques

       To provide clean drinking water and explore the avenues of desalination of water as well as extracting minerals from the ocean belt.

What are the Major Components of DOM?

       Development of Manned Submersible Vehicle:

       A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean with a suite of scientific sensors and tools.

       NIOT & ISRO is jointly developing a Manned Submersible Vehicle.

       National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

       Development of Technologies for Deep Sea Mining:

       An Integrated Mining System will be also developed for mining polymetallic nodules at those depths in the central Indian Ocean.

       The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the near future, as and when commercial exploitation code is evolved by the International Seabed Authority, a United Nations (UN) organisation.

       Development of Ocean Climate Change Advisory Services:

       It entails developing a suite of observations and models to understand and provide future projections of important climate variables on seasonal to decadal time scales.

       Technological Innovations for Exploration and Conservation of Deep-sea Biodiversity:

       Bio-prospecting of deep-sea flora and fauna including microbes and studies on sustainable utilisation of deep-sea bio-resources will be the main focus.

       Deep Ocean Survey and Exploration:

       It will explore and identify potential sites of multi-metal Hydrothermal Sulphides mineralization along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges.

       Energy and Freshwater from the Ocean:

       Studies and detailed engineering design for offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plants are envisaged in this proof of concept proposal.

       OTEC is a technology that uses ocean temperature differences from the surface to depths lower than 1,000 metres, to extract energy.

       Advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology:

       It is aimed at the development of human capacity and enterprise in ocean biology and engineering.

       It will translate research into industrial application and product development through on-site business incubator facilities.

 What is the Blue Economy?

       Blue economy refers to the sustainable use of marine resources for exploration, economic growth, improved livelihoods, and transport while preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.

       In India, the blue economy encompasses a wide range of sectors, including shipping, tourism, fisheries, and offshore oil and gas exploration.

       80% of world trade happens using the seas, 40% of the world’s population live near coastal areas, and more than 3 billion people access the oceans for their livelihood.

 What are the Steps taken by the Government to Promote the Blue Economy?

       Deep Ocean Mission

       India-Norway Task Force on Blue Economy for Sustainable Development

       Sagarmala Project


       Integrated Coastal Zone Management

       National Fisheries Policy


 Major concerns of Deep-Sea mining

       Environmental impacts: Mining operations can disturb and damage fragile deep-sea ecosystems, including coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, and other important habitats.

       Noise pollution: The process generates noise pollution that can overlap with the frequencies at which cetaceans communicate, causing auditory masking and behavioural changes in marine mammals.

       Thermal pollution: The mining vehicles also generate sediment plumes that could smother the benthic species at the bottom of the ocean.

       Regulatory gaps: There is currently a lack of international regulations governing deep-sea mining, which could lead to environmental harm and other negative impacts.

       Technological challenges: Deep-sea mining requires advanced technologies and equipment that are currently under development, and may not be cost-effective or efficient enough to make the practice commercially viable.

       Social and economic impacts: The potential benefits of deep-sea mining may not be evenly distributed, and could lead to social and economic disparities between different communities.


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