The management of seabed resources; actions of the International Seabed Authority

Category Biostratigraphy
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Nandan, Satya
Holding Date 17 September 2008

The International Seabed Authority is an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Authority is the organization through which States Parties to the Convention in accordance with the regime for the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (the Area) organize and control activities in the Area, particularly with a view to administering the resources of the Area. The Area and its resources are the common heritage of mankind, and all rights in the resources of the Area are vested in mankind as a whole. The Authority acts on behalf of the mankind to administer the resources. The Authority, which has its headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, came into existence on 16 November 1994, upon the entry into force of the 1982 Convention. The principal organs of the Authority are the Assembly (154 States Parties plus the European Community are the members), Council (with 36 elected members) and the Secretariat. The Assembly and the Council are assisted by the Legal and Technical Commission (25 expert members) and the Finance Committee (15 expert members.)
The main functions of the International Seabed Authority are to adopt rules, regulations and procedures for conduct of the Activities in the Area, to promote and encourage Marine Scientific Research in the Area and to Protect and conserve the natural resources of the Area and prevent damage to the flora and fauna of the marine environment. In addition, the Authority organizes workshops on the scientific and technical issues relating to the deep seabed mining of minerals, the environmental impacts of such exploration and how the data and information collected by the various scientific institutions can be standardized and shared with its member states. The Authority also brings out regularly publications of the proceedings of these workshops, decisions taken by the sessions of the Authority and on other relevant matters. The Authority also maintains an up to date repository of the data on resources of the Area (Central Data Repository).
The Area is endowed with rich non-living resources, like Polymetallic Nodules (source for Manganese, Nickel, Cobalt and Copper), Polymetallic Sulfides (Source for zinc, copper lead, gold, silver and cadmium) and Cobalt rich ferromanganese crusts (source for cobalt, platinum etc). Other potential resources in the Area are Gas Hydrates and Petroleum and Natural Gas.
The Authority has adopted the mining code for Polymetallic nodules which provides a comprehensive legal frame work for prospecting and exploration of these resources. Applications in the form of Plans of Work for Exploration for Polymetallic Nodules are approved by the Council upon the recommendation of the Legal and Technical Commission and contracts are issued to eight entities (seven contractors in the Clarion-Clipperton zone of the Pacific Ocean and one in the Central Indian Ocean Basin) for exploration in the Area. The Mining code consists of 40 regulations and 4 annexes, including a model contract document. The code stipulates that, the contractors should take necessary measure to prevent, reduce and control pollution, they should establish baseline data and information and develop environmental monitoring program and provide periodic reports to the Authority. The exploration contractors are required to reserve areas for reference and impact zones. The Authority has also joined hands with the Kaplan project to study the distribution of organisms on the seabed in order to facilitate the establishment of environmental guidelines. This project also aims to determine the number of different faunal groups at a number of locations in the Clarion-Clipperton zone using modern molecular methods to facilitate standardization and to use state-of the art molecular and morphological techniques to evaluate levels of species overlap and rates of gene flow for key faunal compositions. The Authority is undertaking an exercise on geological modeling of polymetallic nodule deposits in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture zone. This program is in its final stages of completion.
As regards the other two types of resources in the Area (the polymetallic sulfides and the cobalt rich ferromanganese crusts), the Authority is in the process of adopting the mining codes. The draft codes are being considered by the Council and are likely to be adopted in the coming sessions of the Authority in 2009.