France’s Macron says we need to protect deep ocean from being mined to protect its ecosystems

Stop deep-sea mining, says Macron, in call for new laws to protect ecosystems

French president, speaking on sidelines of UN ocean conference in Lisbon, urges more investment in science to protect high seas

Emmanuel Macron standing at a lectern in front of an aquarium as a ray and a shark pass behind him
Emmanuel Macron at the Lisbon Oceanarium. The French president called for more research into oceans: ‘We need to better understand in order to protect.’ Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty

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Reuters Fri 1 Jul 2022 09.21 EDT

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has called for a legal framework to stop deep-sea mining from going ahead and urged countries to put their money into science to better understand and protect the world’s oceans.

There is growing international interest in deep-sea mining but there is also pressure from some environmental groups and governments to either ban it or ensure it only goes ahead if appropriate regulations are in place.

Deep-sea mining would involve using heavy machinery on the ocean floor to suck up small rocks, known as nodules, that contain cobalt, manganese and other rare metals mostly used in batteries.

“But at the same time we need to promote our scientists and explorers to better know the high seas,” he added. “We need to better understand in order to protect.”

Although the president expressed concerns about deep-sea mining, France holds an exploration contract through the L’Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer (National Institute for Ocean Science) for a 75,000 sq km (29,000 sq mile) area in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an expanse of the north Pacific seabed rich in polymetallic nodules.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body, is drawing up regulations governing seabed mining in the high seas – areas that are outside any national jurisdiction. Until global rules are in place, seabed mining is not allowed.

Cutting machines developed for deep-sea mining.

Several nations, such as the Pacific islands of Palau and Fiji but also Chile, have called for a global moratorium on all deep-sea mining activities, citing environmental concerns and a lack of sufficient scientific data.

But not all countries are against it. China is a leader in deep-sea mining exploration, and small nations have also become involved. The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru gave the ISA an ultimatum last year, declaring its intention to start deep-sea mining by June 2023 and asked the authority to fast-track the adoption of seabed mining regulations.

G7 countries agreed last month that they would only consent to such mining projects if they did not seriously harm the environment. Peter Thomson, UN special envoy for the ocean, told Reuters he believed regulations to counter those concerns would appear soon.

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