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Why Seabed Mining Is the Next Big Threat to the Ocean

Seabed mining could begin in international waters next year, but regulations are virtually non-existent. Join Surfrider in urging our federal leaders to take action!

The news media is hailing seabed mining as the next “gold rush,” but it’s actually much worse. Across the globe, a frantic race has begun among both nations and corporate titans to extract various metals from the world’s ocean. Driven by advances in extractive technology and increasing demand for cobalt, manganese, nickel, gold, and other minerals, a growing industry is looking at the ocean as the “next frontier” to harvest these resources. According to reports, deep seabed mining could begin in the eastern Pacific Ocean as early as next year – and the future health of marine ecosystems may be hanging in the balance.

A Delicate Marine Ecosystem Under Threat

Seabed mineral extraction, or seabed mining as it's more commonly known, involves industrial-scale prospecting for metals and other minerals along the ocean floor. Such activity can damage marine habitats that nurture commercially and recreationally important fish, and numerous other species. Seabed mining can also create sediment clouds in the water column that smother or negatively impact the feeding and reproduction of marine life, including plankton, groundfish, salmon, and forage fish. These sediment clouds and the associated noise of seabed mining can also harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals.

In deeper waters, seabed mining can involve scraping a foot or more off seamounts that are rich in nodules containing minerals. These “underwater mountains” are often located near hydrothermal vents at 4,600 to 12,100 feet below the ocean’s surface and host complex communities containing incredible biodiversity. Such areas include sensitive species of corals and sponges, as well as tuna, sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles. Destructive seabed mining increasingly targets these magnificent places, causing irreparable damage to their unique ecosystems.


Seabed mining can generate massive sediment clouds that harm fish, sharks, and other marine life. Photo Credit: NOAA.

A Regulatory Void Is a Recipe for Disaster

Most concerning of all, government oversight is severely lacking to address the coming onslaught of seabed mining projects across the world’s ocean. International waters have long served as a “free for all” for many extractive activities – from illegal whaling to massive net trawling – but the absence of a regulatory framework for seabed mining is particularly concerning. The United Nations has designated the International Seabed Authority to govern activities, but they have limited authority and focus on mitigation rather than prevention. Despite the efforts of some nations, establishing clear standards and a process for environmental review remains elusive.

In March 2024, representatives from 36 countries met in Jamaica to discuss the ongoing development of draft regulations to govern future seabed mining activities under the purview of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Yet, while participants made some progress to finalize regulations in 2025, it’s unclear whether this deadline will be met. Moreover, many participants and observers have expressed concern that such draft regulations will not be sufficient to protect critical ocean habitat, biodiversity, and ecological functions. Meanwhile, because the United States is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it finds itself on the sideline of this critical discussion over how to evaluate and approve seabed mining in international waters.

Taking Action: Protecting Our Ocean from Seabed Mining

To elevate U.S. engagement in the issue, Rep. Ed Case from Hawaii's 1st District has introduced two bills in Congress. The International Seabed Protection Act (H.R. 4536) would require the U.S. to oppose international seabed mining efforts until the President certifies that the ISA has adopted a suitable regulatory framework to guarantee protection for marine ecosystems and communities that rely on them. The American Seabed Protection Act (H.R. 4537) would prohibit mineral extraction within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) while directing federal agencies to assess how mining activities could affect ocean species, carbon sequestration, and communities that depend on the ocean. 

Please join the Surfrider Foundation in urging our federal leaders to take action on the critical issue of seabed mining – the risks and uncertainties of industrial-scale mining of the world’s ocean demand that we take a precautionary approach to regulating this emerging industry. A growing global coalition supports a moratorium on deep sea mining until conditions preventing environmental damage, securing local stakeholder approvals, and ensuring good governance can be met. This opposition includes 25 countries, 750 marine science and policy experts, businesses and financial institutions, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), state lawmakers, indigenous groups, and the UN Human Rights commissioner.


Image Credit: Pew Environment Group

Surfrider is proud of our work at the state level to prevent harmful seabed mining. In recent years, Surfrider has helped pass laws in Washington, California, and Hawaii to ban seabed mining activities in these state waters. The Hawaii victory is particularly notable as it shows the opposition of the U.S. state and Native Hawaiian community to seabed mining in the Pacific basin, which is the focus of enormous industry interest. The time has come for the U.S. government to take a leadership role on the global stage by pushing for a moratorium on seabed mining in international waters until a suitable regulatory framework is established.

The Role of Consumers: Reducing Our Demand

Finally, Surfrider urges our supporters to consider how personal actions can contribute to interest in seabed mining. An increasing number of products, from cell phones to supercomputers, depend on metals that can be found on the ocean floor. As highlighted in popular media coverage, the growth of the electric car industry is also responsible for fueling interest in seabed mining. That’s why all of us who are fortunate to enjoy a first-world lifestyle must take responsibility for consuming less – of everything. It also reinforces the key role that recycling of products containing precious metals – phones, cars, batteries, computers – must play in limiting the demand for more raw materials to be mined from the land and ocean.

Learn More and Take Action

Action Alert: Prevent Harmful Seabed Mining

Surfrider’s Prevent Seabed Mining Campaign  

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition