Blue seas thinking: A comparative approach to understanding deep-sea mining politics in the UK and Japan

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Lancaster Environment Centre


Deep-sea mining (DSM) has emerged globally as the next major frontier of resource extraction. Faced with the challenging combination of economic opportunity and political and ecological uncertainty, a burgeoning range of strategies are being mobilised that aim to shape development pathways for an industry framed as a solution for a sustainable and secure resource supply in the future. This is nowhere better exemplified by than the distinct efforts being made by the UK and Japan governments, who are positioning their respective countries to be at the threshold of DSM activity as it emerges. Japan, for example, completed the world's first extraction of zinc, gold and other metals from the 5000 feet deep seabed near the coast of Okinawa in 2017. The UK meanwhile, is one of the limited number of countries to have established specific DSM legislation, with its amended Deep Sea Ming Act passed in 2014. However, for all the ever-increasing body of work examining the potential environmental impacts of DSM, there remains an ongoing failure to analyse its political and social consequences.

This is partly because the deep-sea itself has historically been understood to lack significant social or political dimensions. DSM's supposed lack of human impact has seen it marginalised from debates that have tended to focus narrowly on the environmental impacts of proposed mining activity. Moreover, in marginalising social and political thought from their discussion, most current studies of DSM threaten to continue the tradition of treating politics as something predominantly human in nature. Against this background, an expert network of UK and Japanese scholars propose to connect the world-first and unique, Japanese experience of DSM extraction, with the theoretical advances on the topic being led by academic work in the UK. Through a series of workshops, public presentations, parliamentary evidence giving and public exhibitions, it aims to mutually strengthen social science's treatment of the deep-ocean in both Japan and UK. This will lead to research and policy publications, input to the 'Sustainable Seas' enquiry at the UK Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee as well as significant training opportunities for early career researchers foregrounding social science in the debate on DSM. It will also be foundational for preparing a research design to tackle future research challenges presented by DSM as it emerges.

Planned Impact

In addition to the academic impact outlined in the 'academic beneficiaries' section, the project's impact agenda (beyond academia) is arranged into three primary aims: 1) To raise, maintain and develop awareness of the new network's outputs to targeted beneficiaries across government and communities affected by DSM; 2) To communicate the network's findings in a format that enables user groups to access findings and contribute to the project; 3) To establish longer-term collaborative links with DSM policy makers and user groups beyond the lifespan of this project and in preparation for future funding opportunities. In order to engage beneficiaries, a full range of knowledge transfer and communication strategies will carried out in the following areas:

Governance/policy (International and National)
The project will help shape the debates around emergent DSM policy in both the UK and Japan whilst also providing important input to the global context. Specific impacts include:

To build upon the relationship between Lancaster University and the UK House of Commons (HoC) to facilitate access to key government specialists responsible for passing the UK Deep Sea Mining Act 2014.

To feed the network's research findings into the currently running 'Sustainable Seas Inquiry' set up by the UK parliament Environmental Audit Committee. This evidence can feed into future oral evidence briefings at the parliamentary select committee.

To produce a written policy brief which can help place the UK's policy approach to DSM in dialogue with Japan's and provide a global context that can be read and discussed by key UK politicians.

In the Japanese context, meetings with Japan Oil, Gas, Mining and Exploration Corporation (JOGMEC) in Tokyo will be conducted by the international Co-I and PI. These will perform a similar function to the UK government visit outlined above, feeding the outcomes of the network's workshops into a policy brief. 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.


Host a 'politics of deep-sea mining' roundtable event held will held in Lancaster City. Freely open to the public and jointly chaired by the PI and International Co-I, will be comprised of speakers drawn from both Japanese and UK partners in the network and will be representative of all career stages. We will invite key policy makers and legislators from the UK government to attend and respond to points raised by the 'roundtable' panel. An open discussion will follow with the audience, who will include local journalists and members of Lancaster University press team.

Curate a physical poster exhibition detailing the different ways in which Japan and the UK geographically imagine the deep sea. We will also use elements of the physical exhibition as part of a website, populated with critical outputs and essays from academics and practitioners from the network. This will connect the network's findings with policy makers, researchers and research participants globally providing an invaluable resource for advocacy and policy purposes.

Academic/Methodology training

Create an interdisciplinary journal article for Marine Policy

Organise postgraduate methodology training in both the UK and Japan. We will hold two half-day 'PhD opportunities workshops' (1 at Lancaster, 1 at Kyoto) for postgraduate students interested in PhD study related to the network's aims. On the same respective days, the network will host tow 'Postgraduate analytical skills' workshops (one in Lancaster, one in Kyoto). These will be entitled, 'Doing social research in extreme places'. These will centre on the methodological challenges and approaches taken on doing ethnographic research where human communities are not immediately obvious/accessible.


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