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  • Review Article
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Challenges to the sustainability of deep-seabed mining


This Review focuses on whether the emerging industry of deep-seabed mining aligns with the sustainable development agenda. We cover motivations for deep-seabed mining, including to source metals for technology that assists with decarbonization, as well as governance issues surrounding the extraction of minerals. Questions of sustainability and ethics, including environmental, legal, social and rights-based challenges, are considered. Slowing the transition from exploration to exploitation and promoting a circular economy may have regulatory, technological and environmental benefits.

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Fig. 1: Examples of primary mineral resources, associated habitats and extraction mode schematic.
Fig. 2: International deep-seabed mining exploration contracts and countries.

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This Review is derived in part from High Level Panel Blue Paper 3 ‘What role for ocean renewable energy and deep-seabed minerals in a sustainable future?’ under the auspices of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The authors thank P. Haugan and the WRI secretariat for the opportunity to engage; R. Young, V. Monaco and J. Gonzalez for drafting and editorial support; and M. Hannington for assistance with massive sulfide metal calculations. Technical support funding was provided by WRI and by the JM Kaplan Fund (to L.A.L. and H.L.). D.J.A. received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement number 747946. H.L. was supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, United Kingdom, while preparing this manuscript. No original data were generated or archived.

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L.A.L. initially conceived the manuscript and developed the figures and tables. L.A.L., D.J.A. and H.L. wrote the manuscript together.

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Correspondence to Lisa A. Levin, Diva J. Amon or Hannah Lily.

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Levin, L.A., Amon, D.J. & Lily, H. Challenges to the sustainability of deep-seabed mining. Nat Sustain 3, 784–794 (2020).

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