Reference Zones to Measure Deep Sea Mining’s Impact on Seafloor

Workshop helps to conceptualize spatial reference areas needed for deep sea monitoring.

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Reference Zones
A map of the Clipperton-Clarion Zone details the mosaic of exploration areas, Reserved Areas and Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs). Reference Zones will help measure each individual Contractor's mining activity, a monitoring function not to be confused with APEIs. Image: ISA

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is charged with regulating deep-sea mining in the Area and its environmental impacts.  To evaluate these impacts, the ISA’s rules call for contractors to delineate and monitor Impact Reference Zones (IRZs) and Preservation Reference Zones (PRZs).  In general, an IRZ represents the area impacted by mining operations. A PRZ, in contrast, would fall outside the impact area.  By monitoring both zones, contractors and the ISA can evaluate whether any changes observed within an IRZ are caused by mining activities or by other factors.

reference zones
The Berlin workshop gathered leading scientists and legal experts to discuss reference zone design. Physical factors, such as ecological connectivity and the extent of mining plumes, were considered in how such zones should be placed.

However, there is no clear guidance on how ISA reference zones should be designed.  What are the purposes of the two types of reference zones, where should they be located, what types of habitats must they include, how big should they be, and what range of factors must be considered in establishing and monitoring them?

To tackle these questions, the ISA brought together a group of contractors, scientists, and Member State and NGO representatives on September 27-29, 2017 in Berlin.  The workshop goal was to develop recommendations on IRZ/PRZ design and monitoring criteria for consideration by the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission.

The workshop agenda, background documents and presentations are available online.  An official workshop report has yet to be published.