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05.10.24

A Suite of Seabed Mining Bans Are Safeguarding Our Coastal Waters

Hawaii has become the most recent state to join the hot trend of banning seabed mining!

With this latest coastal victory, state waters throughout the entire West Coast and Hawaii, encompassing over 26,000 square miles of coastal ecosystems, are spared from the damaging extractive practice of seabed mining.

Many of you might have remembered our Ban Seabed Mining campaign from a few years ago. We worked with partners like Pew Charitable Trust and Twin Harbors Waterkeeper to raise awareness about this issue and succeeded in passing a bill that banned the practice in Washington’s state waters, which was signed into law on April 11, 2021. California quickly followed suit, banning it in 2022.

Seabed mining, the extraction of minerals from the ocean floor, poses a grave threat to marine life and coastal communities. The process involves dredging the seabed, which damages fragile ecosystems and habitats that are home to countless species. Furthermore, the release of sediment and chemicals during mining operations can have devastating consequences on water quality, marine biodiversity, and overall ecosystem health.

The decision to prohibit seabed mining signifies a proactive approach to environmental conservation. By enacting these bans, states are taking a stand against the irreversible damage that seabed mining can inflict on our oceans. It demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing the long-term health and resilience of marine ecosystems over short-term economic gains.

A graphic describing three types of seabed mining and the effects on different areas of the ocean and wildlife

The potential effects of mining-generated sediment plumes and noise on marine life. Organisms and plume impacts are not to scale. Image credit: Drazen, et al. (2020).

Moreover, these bans highlight the importance of community engagement and grassroots activism in driving positive change. Organizations like Surfrider have played a crucial role in raising awareness about the threats posed by seabed mining and advocating for protective measures. We see similar actions by organizations and indigenous groups across the globe as they organize to get ahead of a potentially devastating extractive industry before it gets off the ground.

State bans, while important, are just the tip of the iceberg, or the shiny chrome veneer if you will. The vast majority of deep sea minerals are far offshore. Some lie within our country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 200 nautical mile buffer around countries that grant them sovereignty over the marine resources there. That is why Surfrider is advocating for the passage of the American Seabed Protection Act (H.R. 4537), which would prohibit mineral extraction on the deep seabed and outer continental shelf within our EEZ. Passing this bill would guarantee protections for all the critters (and economies) that rely on a healthy marine ecosystem, including most of our fisheries, as well as important migratory corridors for whales.

A humpback whale and her calf face to face just under the surface

The vast majority of the world’s deep sea minerals, however, are under the high seas (the seafloor area beneath international waters is creatively named The Area), and as such are governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). There are concerns that given how little we know of the deep sea, let alone how mining will impact it, current regulations aren’t enough to prevent serious and irreversible damage to these unique and valuable ecosystems. So we’re also supporting the International Seabed Protection Act (H.R. 4536), which would require the US to oppose international seabed mining efforts unless the ISA adopts a suitable regulatory framework that would guarantee protection for marine ecosystems and the communities who rely on them. The bill also mandates that federal agencies research the potential impacts of mining on marine species, coastal communities, and carbon cycling.

Mining the deep may very well be necessary to drive the green economy we're trying to build as many of the materials required for things like EV batteries are plentiful in the deep, and land-based mines are often devastating to people and planet (you can read more about the debate on whether mining the deep is necessary or not on my last blog post. For a deeper dive into cobalt mines, I recommend the book Cobalt Red, or check out this NPR article).

To learn more about these two bills, check out our Prevent Harmful Seabed Mining Campaign page. To take action, sign our federal action alert!