By Pita Ligaiula in Lisbon, Portugal

The Pacific nations of Palau and Fiji announced Monday their strong opposition to deep-sea mining and the launch of a ‘new alliance’ to prevent the destructive industry to go ahead.

Palau President Surangel Whipps made the announcement at the UN Ocean Conference (UNOC) side-event, co-hosted by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Lisbon.

“We believe it is not worth the risk. We ask all of you to support that deep-sea mining increases the vulnerability of the seabed floor and marine life.”

“How can we in our right minds say let’s go mining without knowing what the risks are?” he asked.

Fijian Prime Minister and Pacific Islands Forum Chair, Frank Bainimarama said Fiji has joined the Alliance for a Deep Sea Mining Moratorium because “we refuse to destroy what we do not understand”.

“We won’t be able to replace the potential discoveries that seabed mining could grind into dust –– we have to put knowledge first,” stressed Bainimarama.

While Fiji adopted a measure to ban deep-sea mining by 2030 and has expanded its maritime protected areas by 8 per cent, its efforts alone are insufficient, he said, urging other countries to follow its lead.

“We have already banned deep seabed mining and by 2030, 100% of our waters will be sustainably managed, with 30% designated as marine protected areas,” he said.

There is growing pressure from French, Canadian and U.S corporations to advance the deep-sea mining (DSM) agenda, as well as interest from the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association. Just as energy corporations are looking towards deep-sea oil and gas reserves, companies are developing technology to exploit mineral ore deposits found on the ocean floor, including cobalt crusts, seafloor massive sulphides and ferromanganese nodules.

If no moratorium is put in place, mining of the deep seas could begin by July 2023, threatening one of the world’s largest carbon sinks as well as fragile ocean ecosystems.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA), charged with protecting the global seafloor as the ‘common heritage of mankind,’ will meet in July and August to continue to develop, adopt, and approve regulations for the nascent industry.

The meetings follow Nauru’s triggering last year of an obscure legal provision called the ‘2-year rule’ that will open up a vast new frontier of the global ocean commons to large-scale industrial resource extraction by July 2023 with whatever rules are in place at that time.

The ISA has faced criticisms from civil society and others around its transparency, accountability, and inclusivity practices.

The moratorium, another key way for world leaders to protect the world’s oceans from threats like deep-sea mining is to adopt a Global Ocean Treaty. This August at the United Nations IGC5, governments will meet for the final round of negotiations on the treaty.

Greenpeace oceans project lead Arlo Hemphill in a statement said: “The wall of silence is finally being shattered as countries begin to speak out against the destructive deep-sea mining industry, which would put the health of the ocean on which we all depend and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people living in coastal communities at risk. The International Seabed Authority has been rushing headlong into this risky industry while ignoring its mandate to protect the oceans. Even stranger, it is preparing to join those who would be tearing up the ocean floor in search of minerals. The deep ocean, one of the world’s largest, most fragile, and important ecosystems, must remain off-limits to the mining industry.”

We hope the momentum emerging at the UNOC will carry over to the ISA and the UN IGC5. We are facing real crises with our climate and ocean, and we have had enough of the talk shops. Time is running out and we can’t wait any longer. We need these leaders to act boldly and ambitiously to seize the opportunity now to deliver a Global Ocean Treaty that protects the oceans from the threats of climate change, plastic pollution, illegal and unregulated fishing, and the impending launch of deep-sea mining.”