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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Where is the Biden Ocean Team?

In forty-eight hours, and amidst the largest peacetime deployment of a military force in any nation’s capitol, President Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America. Biden will inherit a civil service bureaucracy that has been deconstructed by the twice-impeached President Trump. To build back a federal government that has been decimated and demoralized, President-Elect Biden has begun rolling out nominees for critical agencies throughout the federal government. And though these appointments have been met will enthusiasm from the environmental and scientific community, a nagging question lingers among America’s Ocean Stakeholders:

Where is the Biden Ocean Team?

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Commerce Unveils a Budget to Decimate NOAA

Late yesterday afternoon, the Department of Commerce unveiled its long awaited budget proposal. Designed in large part to free up funding for President Trump’s ill-conceived, wasteful, and wildly unpopular wall on the Southern Border, it includes cuts to NOAA programs so deep that America’s coastal communities and coastal economies will take generations to recover.

Read it here:

The Department of Commerce Budget in Brief: Fiscal Year 2020

When Secretary Wilbur Ross took office, he pledge to support science-based decision making built on the foundation of unbiased data collection, stating:

“If confirmed, I intend to see that the Department provides the public with as much factual and accurate data as we have available. It is public tax dollars that support the Department’s scientific research, and barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public.”

“To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter. In closing, if confirmed, I want to ensure the Department continues to attract Nobel-prize winning scientists and remains a global leader in all of the research it conducts. The Department’s responsibilities are many and the public deserves to see them executed at a world class level.”

Trump nominee pledges to shield NOAA climate scientists from intimidation, censorship.

He even earned accolades from ocean scientists for his early actions and appointments.

Whatever goodwill Secretary Ross may have earned has been destroyed by this new budget, which is nothing less than an attack on American Science, America’s Coastal Communities, and America’s Ocean Economy. It is a betrayal of whatever values Ross claimed to posses during his nomination. This budget is the product of mediocre men of limited vision. I can’t even be mad, I’m just disappointed.

Below are just a few of the most uninspired cuts to the NOAA budget.

Coastal Economies

Zero funding for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.

The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund finances state, tribal and local conservation initiatives to help recover threatened and endangered Pacific salmon populations. The FY 2020 Budget includes $0 funding for this program. The agency will continue its Federal commitment to advancing Pacific salmon and steelhead recovery and Tribal treaty fishing rights through other NOAA programs as resources allow.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 62)
  • Reduce funding for repair/replacement of Coastal Observing Assets.
  • Reduce funding for the Coastal Mapping Program.
  • Eliminate regional Geospatial Modeling Grants.
  • Reduce Integrated Ocean Observing System Regional Observation Grants.
  • Terminate National Centers for Coastal Ocean Service.
  • Eliminate Single-Year Grants to Joint Ocean and Coastal Mapping Center.

Reduces the additional resources provided in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY 2019 to increase research and monitoring of North Atlantic right whales to better understand how the species interacts with fisheries and shipping traffic and is adapting to changing ocean conditions and shifting feeding grounds.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 73)
  • Eliminate NCCOS competitive funding support for research on ecological threats.
  • Eliminate funding support for Integrated Water Prediction.
  • Eliminate Coastal Zone Management Grants.
  • Eliminate Federal Funding Support for the Title IX Fund .
  • Reduce funding for Innovative Coral Reef Restoration Initiatives.
  • Eliminate Federal Funding Support for National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program provides grants or cooperative agreements to eligible marine mammal stranding network participants. Commerce’s budget eliminate this program.

  • Reduces funding previously provided by Congress for New England groundfish research.
  • Reduces Congressionally-directed funding for development and implementation of agency-independent and alternative approaches to research and stock assessments for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
  • Reduces additional funding for the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.
  • Reduces support for implementation of new catch share programs.
  • Reduces funding for Mitchell Act hatcheries and implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
  • Reduces funding for the three Interstate Fishery Management Commissions.
  • Eliminates financial assistance program to promote state activities in the management of interjurisdictional fisheries resources.

Eliminates funding to support the Cooperative Enforcement Program (CEP). NOAA will not be able to implement Joint Enforcement Agreements (JEA) with 27 state and U.S. territory partners. These JEAs provide funds to state and U.S. territorial law enforcement agencies to perform enforcement services in support of Federal regulations.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 75)
  • Eliminates grants for on-the-ground habitat restoration projects.
  • Decrease the funding used to advance priority activities in its Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Labs.
  • Terminate Mississippi State Partnership.

Exploration

[Commerce] requests a decrease to eliminate Federal funding for Marine Sanctuaries Telepresence Grants. These Congressionally directed grants provide funding to explore and document the deep-sea oceanography, marine habitats, cultural sites, and living and non-living resources in and around national marine sanctuaries to better understand their biology, ecology, geology, and cultural resources.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 73)
  • Eliminate Research Grants for Monuments.
  • Eliminate the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) demonstration testbed.
  • Eliminate the environmental genomics program.
  • NOAA will terminate the Oceanographic Research Partnership Program.
  • End competitive acquisition of data from [uncrewed] surface vehicles (USVs).

[Commerce] will decrease its extramural ocean exploration and research efforts by reducing funding to the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology, the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, and the interagency Biodiversity Observation Network.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 77)

Climate Change

  • Eliminate funding for NOAA’s Antarctic Ecosystem Research Program.
  • NOAA will decrease the funding within the OAR Climate Laboratories.

NOAA will eliminate Arctic research within the Climate Laboratories & Cooperative Institutes PPA. NOAA will terminate some Arctic research products and improvements to operational sea ice modeling and predictions.

NOAA will eliminate Arctic research within the Regional Climate Data & Information PPA. NOAA will terminate some Arctic research products and improvements to operational sea ice modeling and predictions.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 76)
  • Eliminate Climate Competitive Research Funding.
  • Eliminate Climate Competitive Research PPA.
  • Reduce funding for the Integrated Ocean Acidification Program.
  • Reduce external grant funding that is used to leverage partnerships to develop a sustained, comprehensive, and responsive global ocean observing system.
  • Terminate support for the NOAA Water Level Observation Network.
  • Reduce the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) Platform 55-buoy array by 15 moorings.
  • Reduce the geographic scope and purchase of observations performed by aircraft and will eliminate the aircraft observations over other parts of the oceans and in other continents.

Disaster Prediction and Relief

Zero funding for Fisheries Disaster Assistance

Fisheries Disaster Assistance helps address the environmental and economic effects of a commercial fishery failure. If the Secretary determines that a fishery disaster has occurred, Congress may appropriate funds for disaster assistance, which are administered by the Secretary. The FY 2020 Budget includes $0 funding for this account.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 62)
  • [Commerce] will terminate Vortex-Southeast (VORTEX-SE), a project that seeks to improve tornado forecasts in the southeastern U.S.
  • Terminate research and development on improving the detection and understanding of severe weather with a new airborne phased array radar (APAR) and other airborne measurements
  • Eliminate the Tsunami Research and Operational Warning program.
  • Slow development of the Next Generation Global Prediction System and Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project by reducing research grants for the collaborative research activities and NOAA’s testbeds.

NOAA will decrease the funding used to advance priority activities in its Weather Labs and CIs funding line, including High Performance Computing recapitalization of the Boulder jet supercomputer, Forecasting a Continuum of Environmental Threats (FACETs), data assimilation initiatives, and other activities that support implementation of the Weather Act.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 76)
  • Terminate efforts associated with the Consumer Option for an Alternative System To Allocate Losses (COASTAL) Act of 2012 implementation within NWS, including efforts to develop the capability to produce detailed “poststorm assessments” in the aftermath of a damaging tropical cyclone that strikes the U.S. or its territories.

Terminate the Regional Climate Centers (RCCs) that provides climate services tailored to the specific needs of the region within which it is located. RCCs respond to emerging issues, such as droughts and floods and each RCC is located at six universities and research institutions that are responsible for managing the RCC resources from NOAA and non-NOAA sources alike.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 80)

Education

NOAA will terminate the National Sea Grant College Program Base and Marine Aquaculture Program. This will eliminate NOAA funding for the network of 33 Sea Grant programs located in coastal States and territories, and withdraw support for the larger cross-NOAA Aquaculture Program.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 77)
  • Terminate the Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program.

Eliminate funding for the Competitive Education Grants Program ($3,000), and the Educational Partnership Program for Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) ($16,000) within the Office of Education and reduce fund for the Office of Education ($1,006). Remaining funds for the Office of Education of $1,039 will support a centralized office focused on
coordinating and improving the performance of NOAA’s numerous activities in STEM education.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 80)

Gutting NOAA Facilities

Reduces funding for science facilities to support NOAA’s goal of a more efficient Federal footprint. Operating costs will be reduced by divesting three owned properties combined with savings from avoidance of deferred maintenance associated with one of the facilities in the Fisheries and Ecosystem Science Programs and Services budget line. These represent initial actions to reduce NOAA’s footprint.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 63)
  • [Commerce] will close the Air Resources Laboratory and eliminate ARL’s research on air chemistry, mercury deposition, and atmospheric dispersion of harmful materials in order to fund other priority programs.
  • [Commerce] will close its program office and intramural grants dedicated to the research, development, and transition to application of new UAS observing strategies.

Privatizing Satellite Monitoring

The budget request of $10 million for the Office of Space Commerce proposes to reallocate resources of $3.6 million and 11 positions from NOAA Operations, Research and Facilities and $6.4 million in new appropriations. The office focuses on various sectors of the space commerce industry, including satellite navigation (GPS), commercial remote sensing, space transportation, and entrepreneurial activities. The office participates in government-wide discussions of space policy issues as well as internal efforts to increase the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) use of commercial space solutions.

FY 2020 Budget in Brief (Page 9)

This pulls NOAA out of satellite monitoring and forcing the agency to rely on private enterprise. The march towards privatizing space is well under way.

Call your representatives (especially if you live in NC, LA, or MD) and tell them that you expect them to oppose every aspect of this disastrous budget.

You can find your representatives’ contact information here: https://www.callmycongress.com/

Trump’s 2020 Budget will be a Disaster for America’s Coastal Economies

Yesterday the Trump Administration unveiled its proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. This budget contains steep cuts research, education, and social services in order to fund the construction of the border wall. Chief among the cuts is an unprecedented reduction in funding for NOAA, which functionally disbands several core research programs within Ocean Services. From A Budget for a Better America:

“The Budget also proposes to eliminate funding for several lower priority NOAA grant and education programs, including Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.”

A Budget for a Better America, page 21

Rumblings on the hill suggest that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross plans to unveil his own plan to drastically reduce the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and permanently hamstring NOAA in furtherance of the Administration’s goal to find funding to construct a wall on the US southern border.

These cuts include zeroing out the budget for the following agencies and programs:

  • NOAA SeaGrant
  • NOAA Coastal Zone Management Program
  • National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)
  • Pacific Salmon Restoration Program
  • Potentially at least one fisheries laboratory

These cuts would be catastrophic America’s Coastal Communities and Economies, especially in places like North Carolina, Maryland, and Louisiana.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – The Break-up

Our lives are a blip in the space time continuum. As a result, it can seem that the Earth is relatively static, with many of the large scale dynamic changes that shape our sphere largely unnoticeable to us occurring on geological time-scales. One such change is the movement of landmasses on earth, better known as plate tectonics.

Earth’s landmasses are not static but in constant flux. The Earth’s lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates that move relative to each other at varying speeds, “gliding” over a viscous asthenosphere. There is still ongoing debate about what force or forces causes this movement, but whatever the forces are they can also cause the plates to rupture, forming rifts, and potential leading to the development of new plate boundaries. When this happens landmasses break-up and new continents forms; this is currently happening in the East African Rift in southwestern Kenya.

View of East African Rift in Kenya from space (Photo credit: Google Earth. Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO).

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Protect Our Oceans: from the ground in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Carlotta Leon Guerrero is a former Member of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Guam Senate. She was also a two-term president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures and previously worked as a radio and television journalist in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.


In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to examine 27 protected areas established by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama using the 1906 Antiquities Act.  Included in the list were four marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (sometimes referred to as Pacific Remote Island Areas or PRIA), which is made up several isolated islands and atolls under American control.  This should have all of us on Guam and in the Pacific concerned, because we are the people who will have to live with the outcome.

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Background information on our land-based shark fishing paper

A photo used in this study showing a hammerhead shark taken completely out of the water. As with all photos used in this study, the angler’s privacy has been protecting by blurring out his face.

I have a new paper out on the conservation impacts of recreational shark fishing. The paper is called “fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum,” and it is published in the journal Fisheries Research. If you don’t have institutional library access, you can read a copy of the paper here. The goal of this blog post is to provide background information on the study.

Journalists are free to quote or paraphrase information from this blog post. Additionally, I provide some suggested quotes below, and I am available for interviews about this paper (please contact me at WhySharksMatter at gmail).

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Measuring the Cultural Value of Oysters

Most people from oyster-producing regions like the Chesapeake can attest to the fact that oysters are important the the social fabric of the community. In many towns that date back to the colonial era, oyster shells literally line Main Street and form the foundation of the town. In others, they form the basis of a modern-day bar scene boasting of “merroir” of the oysters alongside terroir of the wine. When the ecosystem around these kinds of places changes (think warming waters, acidified waters, introduced species who also love oysters), the resource underpinning this aspect of culture and heritage can be threatened. What does that mean for the humans so connected to the briny bivalve?

Historic Baltimore Shucking House. Courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library

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June is National Ocean Month and the president’s proclamation needs some fact checking.

June is National Ocean Month! Take a moment to step back, breathe, and reflect on what the ocean means to you. Go to the beach. Read Moby Dick. Build an underwater robot. And then go remind you representative how critical science-based ocean policy is to the future of our country. It seems like our elected leaders may need a little refresher on that, since the presidential proclamation announcing National Ocean Month is a bit… inaccurate.

Fortunately, we’ve take the time to graciously provide some constructive corrections. You’re welcome.

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