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Deep-sea Environmental Management

Gold, copper, silver, zinc … these and other commercially important metals are abundant in the deep sea and represent an untapped natural resource.  There is intense international interest in three mineral resource types on the seabed: polymetallic nodules, seafloor massive sulfides, and cobalt crusts.  In areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), these resources are the common heritage of humankind under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and extraction of metal-rich deposits from the seabed is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA).  The ISA also has responsibility for protection and preservation of the marine environment from mining activities and a duty to prevent serious harm.  The environmental regulations for deep-sea mining in the ABNJ are being written now, making this a critical point for ensuring sound environmental management in advance of any mining activity.  Duke faculty assist the ISA in protection and preservation of the marine environment by providing science-based recommendations that can inform ISA regulations, guidance, and policy.


For four decades, Duke scientist Cindy Van Dover and her lab were among the global leaders in the exploration of the deep sea and the ecology of deep-sea ecosystems. Van Dover is now among the leaders in the emergent field of deep-sea environmental management, offering her expertise to policy makers as regulations for extraction of mineral resources from the seabed and for protection of the marine environment from mining activities are being written.


Best practices in environmental management and the protection or conservation of marine ecosystems involves spatial planning and design of networks of marine protected areas.  Duke scientists Daniel Dunn and Pat Halpin of the Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab contribute their geospatial expertise to develop tools for area-based management in the deep sea.


Recent and on-going efforts of Van Dover, Dunn, and Halpin, in collaboration with international communities of scholars, include:

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