Activists from around the world have sailed on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, to join in a peaceful assembly in front of one of the battlegrounds for protecting the deep oceans from monster mining machines: the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which is hosting its 25th Assembly in Kingston, Jamaica.

Created in 1994, the ISA is meant to organise and regulate deep sea mining activities in the international seabed (outside of national waters.)

But – spoiler alert – far from protecting our oceans, they are selling it off to greedy industries that are trying to plunder our ocean floor for profit. 

Here are four reasons why we can’t trust the ISA to take care of our precious seabeds.

Esperanza in Jamaica with Banner. © Bárbara Sánchez Palomero / Greenpeace

‘No Deep Sea Mining’ Banner on the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza, in Kingston, Jamaica.

Reason 1: They are obsessed with deep sea mining

Currently, ocean law focuses more on the right to exploit marine resources in international waters than on a duty to protect them.

The ISA has no capacity to protect deep sea environments from the build up of different stresses – whether from drilling and mining, or from threats associated with climate change and plastic pollution. Nor does it have the ability to protect marine life in the broader ocean that could be threatened from toxic plumes, noise, and light pollution as a result of deep sea mining.

Reason 2: They ignore environmental concerns

The ISA’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) process has been criticised for prioritising development of deep sea mining over protection: EIAs are carried out by mining companies and not independently verified. Nor are they shared with the governments who are deciding on whether to grant a permit, let alone the public at large. 

Of the people who make the decision on what environmental considerations need to be made only three out of 30 members have biological or ecological expertise. Meeting behind closed doors, this commission keeps key information about what is being found by contractors in the deep sea confidential – including when companies are breaching standards.

Reason 3: They’re consistently on the side of the deep sea mining companies

In practice, the ISA has already started selling off some of the great wonders of the deep ocean to explore for deep sea mining. They have never yet turned down a licence application for exploratory mining –  even those covering amazing places like the Lost City that global nature treaties have highlighted as ecologically important.

And some members of the ISA do have a very cosy relationship with industry: corporations have begun speaking on behalf of governments at ISA meetings, and some government applications for exploration contracts have even been prepared and funded by deep sea mining companies.

Reason 4: They are undermining negotiations towards a strong Global Ocean Treaty 

The ISA is lobbying for a weaker Global Ocean Treaty, one that would be less able to overcome the fragmented ocean governance that is driving marine life to the brink of destruction. 

In fact, they responded to Greenpeace International’s latest report “In deep water” by saying that it is inaccurate – despite a chorus of voices from scientists and environmental experts rallying for stronger protection of the deep sea. 

The ISA Secretariat even said that the fact that Lost City has been designated by global nature treaties as ecologically significant “has no relevance”, which shows exactly why we need a Global Ocean Treaty to put marine protection first. 

A strong Global Ocean Treaty could pave the way for the creation of a network of ocean sanctuaries that will be off limits to all forms of industrial exploitation, including deep sea mining, as well as raising environmental standards that put protection, not exploitation, at the heart of how we manage the global oceans.

Join the movement and sign the petition for a strong Global Ocean Treaty.

Louisa Casson is a campaigner with Greenpeace UK on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.