Abstract

The International Seabed Authority is responsible for organizing and controlling the exploration and exploitation of international seabed mineral resources. The Authority is in the process of formulating regulations on prospecting and exploration for polymetallic nodules. The draft regulations contain a number of provisions for protection of the environment including set aside of reference zones, implementation of monitoring programmes, submission of specific information, and liabilities for damage to the marine environment. In applying for an exploration contract, contractors are required to provide, inter alia, environmental data (wind speed and direction, current speed and direction, water temperature and salinity, and data on biological communities), an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of their proposed activities and a description of a programme for oceanographic and baseline environmental studies. Guidelines for the assessment of the environmental impacts from exploration activities are being developed. Studies to date support the original concerns for environmental impacts identified in the DOMES research, including impacts on the benthic communities where nodules are removed; impacts of the discharge plume on the nearsurface biota; and impacts on the benthos due to the deposition of suspended sediments. This paper provides a summary of the efforts that have been made to develop environmental guidelines for the assessment of the possible environmental impacts from the exploration for polymetallic nodules in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Introduction

The Challenger Expedition in the 1870's discovered deep-sea polymetallic nodules. Almost a century later, attention was focused on these deep-sea mineral resources as commercial interests in a number of countries expressed their desire to exploit deposits of deep-sea polymetallic nodules to recover the significant quantities of manganese, nickel, copper and cobalt that they contain. Under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 Agreement relating to Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority, an autonomous international organization headquarters in Jamaica, is the organization through which the international community is to organize and control activities in the area beyond the limits of national jurisdiction ("the Area").

The Authority's Legal and Technical Commission has proposed a set of draft regulations containing rules, regulations and procedures for prospecting and exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Area. With respect to the protection and preservation of the marine environment, the draft regulations contain a number of provisions that require the Authority, potential contractors, contractors and sponsoring states to cooperate in establishing and implementing programmes for monitoring and evaluating the impacts of deep seabed exploration activities. For the purposes of executing an exploration contract, the Authority, inter alia, is to develop procedures and guidelines for the establishment of environmental baselines against which to assess the likely effects of these activities in the Area.

A workshop was held in Sanya, China in June 1998 for the sole purpose of assisting the Legal and Technical Commission in developing environmental guidelines for the assessment of the possible environmental impacts from the exploration for polymetallic nodules in the Area. The workshop's objectives were to provide an effective environmental monitoring programme with specific parameters, frequency of measurement and recommended methodology for consideration by the Legal and Technical Commission a

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