Table of Contents

    Geological wealth is often accompanied by biological wealth. The three main types of ore deposits on the ocean floor in the Area create a unique habitat where rare, endemic organisms occur and which also have an extremely long lifespan and therefore slow growth. A life span of 2,320 ± 90 years, such as for the black coral, is not exceptional here, which also makes these organisms extra vulnerable.

    Associated with the polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone are, among others, unique sponges, cnidarians such as corals, molluscs such as barnacles and octopus, echinoderms such as sea cucumbers and brittle stars, larvae of crustaceans and specific roundworms. An approximately four times higher density of organisms is found on and around the nodules compared to areas without polymetallic nodules. Due to the inaccessibility of the area, scientific research on the fauna on these nodules is limited.

    Chemotrophic bacteria, which convert inorganic substances into nutrients through chemical reactions, form the basis of the unique ecosystems that occur on the hydrothermal vents of the deep sea. About 85 % of the species associated with the polymetallic sulphides are unique for this habitat. The yeti crab and various deep sea worms are examples of this. Some scientists even believe that life on earth has arisen on these hydrothermal vents.

    Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts are also called oases of the abyssal plains because they contain a higher biomass and a diversity of species that live just above the bottom. When oceanic fronts are present in the environment, the plains can form a reinforcing connection between the soil community and the pelagic community, since there is a higher primary production and therefore also more pelagic species. Fish and marine mammals often occur in large groups, which also attracts the orca. The plains can also serve as orientation points and breeding grounds for the animals.

    Role of the International Seabed Authority

    The International Seabed Authority is charged with:

    • the regulation and management of the mineral resources in the Area,
    • the prevention, reduction and combat of pollution of the marine environment as a result of exploration and exploitation activities,
    • the protection and conservation of the natural resources of the Area, and
    • the prevention of damage to the flora and fauna of the marine environment.

    Initial environmental status

    In order to assess the potential effects of the exploration and exploitation activities, the contractors are obliged to collect data on the initial environmental status.

    However, gathering data on the initial state of the biological environment requires very great expertise in taxonomy, since a very large proportion of the species were unknown until now. To this end, three taxonomic workshops have been organized so far:

    The first workshop led to the creation of an online Atlas or Abyssal Megafauna, which will be supplemented in the future with the data on the macro- and meiofauna.

    The Authority is currently setting up an online database for the data on the initial environmental status. This online database should be operational by the autumn of 2018.

    Environmental Management Plans

    In 2012, the Authority approved the Environmental Management Plan for the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. This also involved the creation of nine areas of particular environmental importance, designed to protect biodiversity and ecosystem structure. This environmental management plan will be evaluated in the near future.

    Currently, the Authority is working on the design of a regional environmental management plan for cobalt-rich crusts in the Pacific Ocean and polymetallic sulphide deposits on mid-ocean ridges.

    More information

    International Seabed Authority - Workshops

    MIDAS project (2013/2016 - Managing Impacts of Deep-Sea Resource Exploitation)

    JPI Oceans - Ecological Aspects of Deep-Sea Mining (2013/2022)

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    Malcolm Clark, Christopher Kelley, Amy Baco & Ashley Rowden (2011), Fauna of Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crust seamounts. ISA Technical study; no. 8. International Seabed Authority, Kingston, Jamaica, 90 pp. (

    Luc Cuyvers, Whitney Berry, Kristina Gjerde, Torsten Thiele & Caroline Wilhem (2018). Deep seabed mining: A rising environmental challenge. IUCN and Gallifrey Foundation, Gland, Switzerland, x+74pp.

    Bart De Smet, Ellen Pape, Torben Riehl, Paulo Bonifácio, Liesbet Colson & Ann Vanreusel (2017). The Community Structure of Deep-Sea Macrofauna Associated with Polymetallic Nodules in the Eastern Part of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:103. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00103

    Claire Garrigue, Phillip Clapham,Ygor Geyer, Amy Kennedy, and Alexandre Zerbini (2015). Satellite tracking reveals novel migratory patterns and the importance of seamounts for endangered South Pacific humpback whales. Royal Society Open Science (

    Kathryn Miller, Kirsten Thompson, Paul Johnston & David Santillo (2018). An Overview of Seabed Mining Including the Current State of Development, Environmental Impacts, and Knowledge Gaps Front. Mar. Sci., 10 January 2018.  

    Telmo Morato, Peter Miller, Daniel Dunn, Simon Nicol, James Bowcott & Patrick Halpin (2016). A perspective on the importance of oceanic fronts in promoting aggregation of visitors to seamounts. Fish and Fish. 17, 1227–1233.

    Ellen Pape, Tania Bezerra, Freija Hauquier & Ann Vanreusel (2017). Limited Spatial and Temporal Variability in Meiofauna and Nematode Communities at Distant but Environmentally Similar Sites in an Area of Interest for Deep-Sea Mining. Front. Mar. Sci. 4:205. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00205

    Ryan Reisinger, Mark Keith, Russel Andrews & P. J. N. de Bruyn (2015). Movement and diving of killer whales (Orcinus orca) at a Southern Ocean archipelago. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 473, 90–102.

    Craig Smith, Gordon Paterson, John Lambshead, Adrian Glover, Alex Rogers, Andrew Gooday, Hiroshi Kitazato, Myriam Sibuet, Joëlle Galéron & Lenaïck Menot (2008). Biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the abyssal Pacific nodule province: predicting and managing the impacts of deep seabed mining. ISA Technical study; no. 3. International Seabed Authority, Kingston, Jamaica, 38 pp. (

    Cindy L. Van Dover, Craig Smith, Jeff Ardron, Sophie Arnaud, Yannick Beaudoin, Juan Bezaury, Gregory Boland, David Billett, Mark Carr, Georgy Cherkashov, Adam Cook, Fabio DeLeo, Daniel Dunn, Chuck Fisher, Laurant Godet, Kristina Gjerde, Patrick Halpin, Lisa Levin, Michael Lodge, Lenaick Menot, Karen Miller, Debbie Milton, Lieven Naudts, Conn Nugent, Linwood Pendleton, Sophie Plouviez,Ashley Rowden, Ricardo Santos, Tim Shank, Samantha Smith, Chunhui Tao,  Akuila Tawake, Andreas Thurnherr & Tina Treude (2011), Environmental management of deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems: justification of and considerations for a spatially-based approach. ISA Technical study; no. 9. International Seabed Authority, Kingston, Jamaica, 90 pp. (

    Ann Vanreusel, Ana Hilario, Pedro A. Ribeiro, Lenaick Menot & Pedro Martínez Arbizu (2015). Threatened by mining, polymet allic nodules are required to preserve abyssal epifauna. Nat. Sci. Rep. 6:26808. doi: 10.1038/srep26808

    Chris Yesson, Malcolm Clark, Michelle Taylor & Alex Rogers (2011). The global distribution of seamounts based on 30 arc seconds bathymetry data. Deep Sea Res. Part I Oceanogr. Res. Pap. 58, 442–453.

    Last update
    3 December 2018