Into the Abyss: Deep-sea Mining, Geo-politics and Global Development

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University


Despite the fact that the deep-sea is by degrees, imperceptible and a boundary to human knowledge, the race to mine it is on. This project will analyse the emergent political challenges of sustainable deep-sea mining taking into account conflicting social interests, the ways in which the deep sea bed is sensed and imagined, and the physical properties of the deep ocean itself. Increasing global demand for economically and strategically important resources such as gold, copper, rare-earth metals and phosphates, coupled with advances in mining technology, has meant that the deep-sea has emerged for the first time as a key site of resource extraction. The industry, which already explores over 1 million of deep-sea bed, is expected to be worth £40 billion over the next 30 years to the UK alone. To this end, debates have opened up which have focused on the economic and environmental impacts of the deep-sea mining (DSM) industry. Thus the deep sea is increasingly considered in terms of profitability and safety rather than in terms of ownership, ethics and competing politics. In failing to sufficiently take into account the deep sea's political dimensions, current research misses out in explaining how DSM governance comes into being. How is deep-sea mining imagined, visualised and mapped by different stakeholders? Can DSM be part of international development strategies in the global South? What role do the resources, properties and dynamics of the deep-sea play in political issue formation? By addressing these questions through a critical social science reading of DSM, this project has a key role to play in understanding competing global, national and local geopolitical 'imaginaries' - or ways of understanding the deep-sea - and their profound conceptual and substantive implications for DSM research and policy. It offers a comparative study of the two key nation-states in the global South that are engaging actively, but differently, with the prospect of DSM: Papua New Guinea (PNG), which has embraced its economic potential in the country's development plan; and Namibia, which has issued a temporary moratorium on all DSM activity prior to its inclusion in any national development strategy. More radically, how might taking the physical properties of the deep sea itself seriously change the way we think about the politics and policies of resource extraction? Conceptually, it will be the first to bridge emergent contemporary work on both ocean and subsurface geographies and to consider how an engagement with the physical properties of the ocean itself changes the way we think about the politics and policies of DSM. It will build a new conceptual understanding of deep-sea geopolitics by generating new qualitative data through interviews and focus groups with senior government officials in Namibia and PNG, affected communities, global activists, lawyers and oceanographers. Working with communities affected by potential DSM in Namibia and PNG, it will produce new types of 'participatory' maps, that will offer alternative political futures for DSM. It will also comprehensively analyse texts relating to DSM legal treaties and political speeches in order to show how DSM politics is contemporarily made and to influence how it is shaped in the future. Among many other activities, the research will do this at a national scale by producing public policy briefings for UK parliamentary use and globally by working with the International Seabed Authority (the key global regulator of the deep-sea) to create new, critical ways of mapping and governing DSM. Both a physical and online exhibition will show the ways in which alternative ways of imagining the deep-sea can challenge and shape the emergent policy agendas that regulate the mining of it. These outcomes will provide an invaluable resource for a range of current and future users from activists to policy makers, researchers to communities affected by the changing landscapes of DSM activity.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic impact outlined in the 'academic beneficiaries' section, the following groups are targeted for impact activities (full details in 'pathways to impact' attachment):

Governance/policy (International and national)

(1) 4 x biannual briefing workshops with key stakeholders, bringing together senior government officials from Namibia and PNG, and activists from 'Deep Sea Mining Campaign' that will serve to influence the development of future DSM policies and regulations; will be conducted via Skype.

In the workshops, data from the critical mapping methodology will be shared and their significance for policy for discussed. These discussions can influence, for example, the shape of the 'regulatory framework for deep sea mineral exploitation', the draft policy for which is currently under review. At the end of all workshops, briefing reports will be produced which will detail points for action and areas for future research.

(2) Written public policy briefing(s) (so-called POSTnote(s)) on DSM for UK parliamentary use, with the potential to shape UK policy on DSM in PNG and Namibia.

This will be enabled through the House of Commons library. Will use research findings to place the UK's policy approach to DSM in a global context and will be read and discussed by key UK politicians.

(3) 4 x biannual Policy workshops with UK parliamentary office, to include members of the Deep-Sea Mining Act 2014 committee and global legislators from the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

The project's research findings will be discussed (letter of support attached). Has potential to feed into the shape of the recently passed 2014 UK Deep Sea Mining Act with the ongoing possibility of amendments.


(1) One-day public exhibition entitled 'Imagining the Deep Sea: Culture and Politics' to be held at The Storey gallery in Lancaster City', will display maps of the deep-sea (normative, participatory and critical) generated by the fieldwork.

Will feature presentations from leading academics (including the PI, mentor and RA) and practitioners on topics ranging from methodology to DSM's contemporary significance; will conclude with launch of the website, hosted by the university for a period of 5 years beyond the project. Will have targeted invites to key DSM policy makers in UK government and will be advertised through Lancaster University's social media.

(2) Creation of an open-access, 'exhibition' website, populated with critical mapping outputs and essays from leading academics and practitioners.

This will connect the project's findings with activists, policy makers, researchers and research participants globally providing an invaluable resource for advocacy and policy purposes. It will feature a) an edited collection of short essays on deep-sea politics and geography from leading academics, practitioners and activists; b) interactive maps of deep-sea mining (pre-existing, participatory and critical); c) a comment function that will invite registered users to submit comments on the resources they have seen and thus enable the PI to monitor the impact of the website on the wider community; d) short videos of the methodology process (to share best practice on participatory mapping methods and critical cartography); e) social media links to twitter and blogposts; links to relevant organisations (e.g. ISA).

(3) Production of widely read blog articles to contribute to a better understanding of policy issues (e.g. The Conversation).

These will be targeted at websites with large readerships (The Conversation, for example has 9 million views per month) and build on my previous articles published with the likes of The New Internationalist, Pambazuka News and The Conversation.

(4) Additional media opportunities to communicate the conceptual impact, such as the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers 2017/18 scheme.

Other media opportunities will be sought as they emerge.


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Title VIDEO: Into the abyss: the politics of deeps sea mining in Papua New Guinea 
Description 8 minute research film (professionally produced) on the politics of seabed mining in PNG. It can be used as both a research and teaching tool. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact it has been used as a teaching tool and was a key part of the public research exhibition. It will be used at future academic conferences. 
Description An overview and understanding of the global politics of deep sea mining.
Exploitation Route To test and develop ideas with reference to newly evolving laws around deep sea mining regulation.
Sectors Environment

Description Early findings have been used to feed into an EU policy brief being submitted to the International Seabed Authority. Further non-academic impacts may follow following the completion of data collection and the project. They have contributed to blog articles in and the For an example, please see: Also fed into public exhibition held in Lancaster, UK in November 2018.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Blue seas thinking: A comparative approach to understanding deep-sea mining politics in the UK and Japan
Amount £30,495 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S012974/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 09/2019
Description Invited part of OceanGov (European Cost Action) 
Organisation Ocean Governance for Sustainability
Country Germany 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Invited to be apart of OceanGov (European Cost Action). Part of European-wide network of scholars and policy makers, work package: 'seabed resources'. Have participated in international workshop held in Tenerife, October 2017. Fed into policy brief to be submitted to International Seabed Authority.
Collaborator Contribution Provided workspace in Tenerife workshop.
Impact Multidisciplinary. Outputs are ongoing.
Start Year 2017
Description Deep Sea Mining website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Website detailing news, research and information on deep sea mining politics
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Public Exhibition (Lancaster) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 80 people visited public poster exhibition. 2 hour session showed film created from the project, engaged in interactive activities, q and a.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018