Two Years of Deep-sea Mining in Review: Confusion and Gridlock at the 26th Session of the International Seabed Authority

As in-person negotiations on the future of exploitation in the deep ocean resume this week in Kingston Jamaica, we reflect back on the last two years of development as reported on our sister site, the Deep-sea Mining Observer. This article first appeared two years ago, on March 19, 2020.


The 26th Session of the International Seabed Authority convened this February to continue the long and complex negotiations over the draft Mining Code and work towards consensus among the various stakeholders. 2020 was set as the target year to get the Mining Code finalized, but many delegates left Jamaica feeling frustrated with the pace of deliberations and a growing sense that the 2020 deadline was far too optimistic. Chief among the challenges was a recognition that the Council is now further from reaching agreement on the financial model than it was at the end of the 25th Session and a lack of clarity over the composition of the Legal and Technical Commission as it pertains to the representation of both geographic distribution and technical expertise.

Procedural Gridlock slows negotiations

The overwhelming sentiment of member state delegates, NGO’s, and even contractors was a sense of dysfunction and confusion, best highlighted by the fact that over a 5-day meeting, the Council went through three new presidents. First, as outgoing Council President Lumka Yengeni was absent from the meeting, outgoing regional Vice-president Luis del Solar assumed the chair to preside over the selection of a new council president. Usually, a Regional Group arrives at the ISA with a nominee for council president already prepared. Not this time. A three hour delay to select the president of the 26th Session of the ISA on the morning of the first day set the tone for the week. 

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Two Years of Deep-sea Mining in Review: As deep-sea mining inches towards production, a global pandemic brings negotiations to a halt.

As in-person negotiations on the future of exploitation in the deep ocean resume this week in Kingston Jamaica, we reflect back on the last two years of development as reported on our sister site, the Deep-sea Mining Observer. This article first appeared two years ago, on March 18, 2020.


When the first part of 26th Session of the International Seabed Authority convened last month, there was a new stakeholder impacting the pace of deliberations. COVID-19 had just begun to spread beyond China and nations across the world were limiting travel in the hopes of containing the outbreak. With Jamaica imposing a 14-day quarantine on any traveler coming from China, the Chinese delegation was notably absent, with a delegation from the New York mission standing in for their colleagues. But they weren’t the only delegation affected. Multiple delegates whose travel was supported by the Commonwealth we’re also unable to attend. 

Though those absences did slow down deliberations and cast a pallor over the proceedings, they were nothing compared with what happened next. 

Earlier this week, Forbes published a contributor article entitled “Will Ocean Seabed Mining Delay The Discovery Of Potential Coronavirus Vaccines?” Though hyperbolic in its reaction to an industry which has yet to even begin production, ironically Forbes may have gotten the situation reversed: long before deep-sea mining has even the remote potential to delay the development of novel pharmaceuticals, the COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly delay the development of deep-sea mining. 

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Getting your kids started in conservation technology: a quick guide for parents who have no idea where to begin.

Southern Fried Science has been a bit dormant for the last year, so first, a re-introduction:

I’m Andrew Thaler, I’m an ocean scientist, and I make weird tech things.

Ten years ago I inherited an old mechanical tide gauge from a lab cleanout. For some bizarre reason, I thought: what if, instead of tracking the rising and falling tides in the Beaufort Inlet, it tracked the waxing and waning of conversations about sea level rise on Twitter. And thus, the Sea Leveler was born. 

In a lot of ways, the Sea Leveler was the precursor of things to come. It was exhaustively documented and released as an open-source project on GitHub. It merged the digital with the physical, creating an object that allowed you to connect an online conversation to the real-world environment through repurposed technology. It was weird. And it was fun. 

The Sea Leveler itself was passed on to a good friend and champion of ocean outreach, but its legacy lives on in the plethora of projects to follow: Drown Your Town, Dolphin Vision, the reStepper, Turtle Borg, and, of course, the OpenCTD

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Furniture as Revolution.

This is Part 3 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


Small-scale DIY solar arrays are neat. Vigilance in chemical exposure risk is a valuable habit to develop. Selecting local materials and responsibly-sourced wood can ease your environmental burden while bolstering creativity. But these are not particularly paradigm-breaking expressions of an environmental ethic. It is the furniture itself that is the most profound manifestation of that ethic.

Creating a piece of functional, practical art that can last for generations is a radical departure from the current trend of disposable fast furniture made of particle board and held together with camming nuts, cheap dowels, and that one textbook that you can never read lest your bookcase collapses under its own precarious weight. Stores like Ikea have done an impressive job making attractive, modern furniture accessible and affordable, but it has done so at significant environmental costs.

Although fast furniture stores, and especially Ikea, have made huge strides in environmental compliance and sustainable production, their core business model is centered on the idea that furniture is disposable, that people want to “refresh” their living spaces every few years, and that the transience of fast furniture is part of its appeal. People want to go furniture shopping. Ikea gives you a reason to. 

The life-cycle of fast furniture is grim. By design. 

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Getting a handle on workworking chemicals, or sometimes we all need to vent.

This is Part 2 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


Walk into any woodshop and you find a shelf full of chemicals. Solvents, paints, varnishes, lacquers, oils, glues, and a host of other exotic and not so exotic solutions are a staple of the craft. These compounds are used to join, clean, prepare, and finish most woodworking projects, as well as maintain your tools. Do any amount of woodworking, and you’ll almost certainly accumulate a shelf of assorted, half-used, chemicals of your own. 

What’s almost certainly not present in most woodshops, especially hobbyist woodshops, are the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for these chemicals. MSDSs tell you everything you could possibly want to know about the hazards associated with commercial chemical compounds. For many common woodworking products, the MSDSs are pretty intense. 

I’ll be completely honest here. I have never had MSDSs in my workshop. It was only while doing the background research for this article that I realized I needed to pay more attention to the assorted chemicals involved in the craft, and started compiling all the potential hazards. I suspect that the vast majority of hobbyist woodworkers are the same. 

Woodworking chemicals contain irritants, release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are cut with heavy metals, and are often just plastic. They can be bad for your skin, bad for your lungs, and bad for your brain. When produced, disposed of, accidentally discharged, or as they break down through regular wear, they can release harmful compounds into the environment. If not disposed of correctly, some of these products will spontaneously burst into flames.

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A shed with solar panels

I turned my woodshop into a personal solar farm.

This is Part 1 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


For almost a decade, I’ve dreamed of building an off-grid solar system to power my woodworking, provide reliable back-up power for my home, and reduce the number of 2-stroke engines in my life. This was finally the year where I had the time and resources to do it. 

My workshop isn’t big. The 12-foot by 16-foot shed houses not just my tools and workbenches, but also all our yard and gardening supplies, storage for assorted seasonal gear and decorations, and a pile of robot parts. So I needed a compact system that still delivered the amps. 

Building a small off-grid solar system is simpler than you might think. Building a small off-grid solar system that can run power tools is a bit more complicated. 

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Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking

I make things. I make weird electronic things. I make scientific instrument things. And I make things out of wood. I make a lot of things out of wood

When I’m not working on marine conservation technology, educational programming, or high seas policy, I’m usually out back in the woodshop, building furniture, functional art, and other woodcrafts. This probably isn’t a surprise. For the last eleven years, one of the most popular articles at Southern Fried Science has been How to build a canoe from scratch on a graduate student stipend

Every few years, I turn an analytical eye on my hobbies, assessing the lifecycle of the materials I use, the sources of inefficiency, and, most importantly, how the practice of the craft aligns with or deviates from my personal environmental ethic. In other words, I do a sustainability audit on my recreational activities. For the last year, I’ve focused on understanding and improving the environmental impacts of my woodworking.

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The day they arrived: a story of Bitcoin, terraforming, and invasion.

The day they arrived, atmospheric CO2 held steady at 1600 parts per million and the coin traded at #75,236,808.

The coin had surged in the years after the Majority War, when a single miner locked down enough processing power to strip the supply cap from the Core. The Battle for Hard Fork was the bloodiest day in the long history of cryptocurrency. But we won, and the minority nodes now burn endlessly, hashing memes in obscurity while we determined the financial future of the human race.

At least, that’s what I thought.

I awoke in a haze. Still a little drunk from the night before. Sweating in the heat of from the midnight sun. Greenland-3 was the largest mining campus in the Northern Hemisphere and we knew how to keep the evenings lively. Once again, my past self had betrayed my present by signing me up for first shift. 

I crawled down the shaft into the main hub and checked my servers. Everything looked fine. A few GPUs were burned but we had plenty to spare. They were older and power hungry, anyway. The new batch would get us twice the hashes per joule.

I grabbed a few GPUs off the rack and climbed down into the bowels of the machine.

It was hot. Hotter than it should be for 15:15 Beijing time. Someone, somewhere, is having a very good day. I crawled through the server racks, scanning for the dead cards. They were clustered, in the back corner, on the same control board. Must’ve been a local surge.

As I swapped out the old cards, I felt someone behind me. I turned, expecting one of the techs from last shift on their way out.

It wasn’t.

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A sea turtle robot looking fearsome on a blue background.

I built a horrifying cyborg sea turtle hatchling so you can learn a little bit about behavioral ecology

Sea turtles, in case you didn’t know, are pretty great. These giant marine reptiles have been chilling out in the ocean for over 100 million years, largely unchanged. But their evolutionary foray onto land along with the rest of the tetrapods (a move largely regarded as a mistake by most extant species) left them with one one critical vulnerability: they have to return to land to lay their eggs, and their hatchlings must survive a grueling march to the sea within minutes of emerging into the world.

To find their way back to the sea, sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests in the darkness and track light cues on the horizon, tracking the glow of starlight on waves. This becomes a huge problem when the beach is littered with the pollution of artificial lights, leading hatchlings away from the sea and towards streets, resorts, and beachfront bars. Light pollution is such a serious problem for sea turtle survival, that many municipalities which host turtle nesting beaches ban the use of superfluous lighting during nesting season. 

Protecting sea turtle nests and nesting sea turtles, particularly the massive, primordial leatherback sea turtle, is a core mission of the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSetCO). Leatherbacks are exceptionally sensitive to light. On the top of their heads is a translucent patch of skin directly above the pineal gland. This window to the turtle’s brain serves as a rudimentary third eye which can sense how light changes.

You can help support DomSetCO by donating to our campaign to build the Rosalie Conservation Center, a hybrid rum distillery, fish hatchery, and conservation center in Dominica. Drink rum, save turtles. 

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The most massive ‘massive sardine’ discovered in the deep waters of Japan

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is reprinted here with permission. For the latest news and analysis about the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to DSM Observer here: http://dsmobserver.com/subscribe/

Featured image: Colossal Slickhead, from Fujiwara et al. 2021

Even with the intense research focus of the last twenty years, the deep sea is still almost entirely unexplored. New species are par for the course every time a fresh sample is recovered from the abyssal plain. The vast biodiversity of the deep seafloor is offset by a biomass deficit; the denizens of the deep sea, with a few notable exceptions, are few and far between, their size often limited by the paucity of food available to them. While giants like the Japanese King Crab or the Giant Deep-sea Isopod do occur, the vast majority of deep-sea species are relatively small. 

The discovery of new species in the deep ocean is common, but the discovery of new giants in the deep sea is extremely rare. 

Last month, a research team from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) led by Dr. Yoshihiro Fujiwara and the Deep-sea Biodiversity Research Group announced the discovery of a new species of slickhead from the deep waters around Suruga Bay. Weighing in at 25 kilograms and measuring 140 centimeters, the Colossal Slickhead, described from four specimens recovered from depths greater than 2000 meters, is the largest species of slickhead (a group of deep-sea fishes found in waters deeper than 1,000 meters) yet described

In Japan, slickheads are commonly called sekitori iwashi–’massive sardines’. In recognition of its immense size, the researchers gave this most massive of massive sardines the common name yokozuna iwashi, after the title given to champion sumo wrestlers. 

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