Ecological Safeguards for Deep Seabed Mining

The deep seabed is the least understood ecosystem on Earth and is known to contain mineral resources in some areas. These ores also contain small amounts of minerals used in the production of batteries for electric cars, mobile telephones, and other electronic devices. Their extraction presents significant technical challenges and is not yet financially viable. Environmental reviews have shown that deep seabed mining could result in irreversible damages on a large scale. Yet efforts continue to promote the development of deep seabed mining despite low commodity prices and the resulting uncertainty about its economic benefits.

Designing a regulatory framework well in advance

The existing United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does allow for the mining of mineral resources in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction, but as yet there is no comprehensive legal framework for the protection of marine ecosystems. This is where the project “Ecological Guardrails for Deep Seabed Mining” takes up its work. It will highlight the environmental consequences of deep seabed mining and derive recommendations for future environmental standards from them. Conversely, it will analyse existing provisions for the protection of the oceans in international law and expose any loopholes.

Advising on environmental standards

One of the project’s principal tasks is to advise the German Federal Environment Agency on legal, scientific and policy matters in the context of developing environmental standards for sustainable commercial deep seabed mining. To this end, researchers will communicate their knowledge in the form of discussion papers, fact sheets and policy briefs. In addition to regular discussions, an international workshop and a dialogue meeting are planned. The project, which contributes to the IASS Ocean Governance project, will also contribute to the formulation of mining legislation by the International Seabed Authority.


Sebastian Unger

+49 (0)331 288 22 328

Dr Sabine Christiansen

+49 (0)331 288 22 419


10/2015 to 12/2017

Project partners:

  • Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)
  • Federal Environment Agency (UBA)
  • Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi)
  • Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR)


marine biodiversity, conservation, deep seabed mining, areas beyond national jurisdiction


Scientific Project Leader: Sebastian Unger

Research Associates: Dr Sabine Christiansen (Project coordinator), Dr Aline Jaeckel, Katherine Houghton

Supervising Directors: Prof. Patrizia Nanz, Prof. Mark Lawrence

This project is being commissioned by the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) within the framework of the environmental research plan - research number 3715 25 200 0 - and financed with German government funds.