“Into the Deep: Analysing the Actors and Controversies Driving the Adoption of the World’s First Deep Sea Mining Governance” is a research project based at the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. The project team is led by Associate Professor Pascale Hatcher from UC. The project is funded by the Marsden Fund Council (Marsden 22-UOC-059).
The world’s first commercial Deep Sea Mining (DSM) operation set to begin in the Pacific and it is expected to transform Pacific Island societies and political economies. With a market projected to reach a staggering $15.3 billion by 2030, DSM is highly enticing for Pacific Island Countries and their communities (PICs). But DSM spurs controversies and paradoxes. For instance, a cluster of actors see DSM as a cornerstone for humanity’s fight against climate change but opponents point out that it may have unforeseen long term impacts on fragile ecosystems and ultimately, worsen the climate crisis. DSM is divisive in the PICs. While Fiji and Vanuatu have called for a moratorium on DSM activities, eight out of fourteen PICs have already issued exploration licences in their waters and/or sponsored exploration projects in the “Area” (the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction).
Our pilot research indicates that the scope and implications of work on DSM in the Pacific is dominated by interest-driven research projects that advance entrenched “for” or “against” positions. There is a marked scarcity of research that fosters Pacific voices/Indigenous perspectives. This is highly concerning because PICs are in the midst of adopting the world’s first DSM-specific governance regimes (i.e. the economic, social and environmental regulations and institutional arrangements set to govern DSM). Ultimately, the long-term impact of DSM across the communities of the region is likely to play out in the content of these new governance regimes. This is because the long legacy of (land) mining, including in the Asia-Pacific region, shows that inadequate – often foreign led – governance, leaves developing countries vulnerable to exploitive extractivism. And as a world first, DSM could magnify socio-economic and ecological vulnerabilities across the PICs.
There is an urgent need to understand how societies in the PICs are making decisions around DSM and on the development of DSM-specific governance. There does exist a small body of quality work that has attempted to categorise the main narratives and assumptions framing DSM but there does not exist a comprehensive study on the multi-scalar power dynamics shaping DSM governance in the Pacific, let alone literature that foregrounds Pacific perspectives.