03/28/2016 Colloquium - Christiana Ochoa: “Contracts on the Seabed”
From David Price
Over a million square kilometers of the non-sovereign seafloor is under mineral exploration licenses and, by some assessments, an additional four million square kilometers of seabed pertaining to sovereign Pacific Island nations are under contract for mineral exploration or exploitation. Historically, these licenses have acted as “squatters’ rights” in anticipation of a distant future when the machinery to exploit oceanic mineral wealth might be developed. That moment has arrived, with the first seafloor mining machines rolling off production lines in 2015–2016. What have not arrived apace with these innovations are the governance mechanisms to adequately balance the known, unknown, and unknowable effects of seafloor mining. Rather, the primary targets for seafloor mining are scrambling to create the statutory, regulatory, and administrative structures necessary to support seafloor mining, and buttress against the harms it may cause. In such contexts, countries must require strong contracts that approximate the terms on which local populations consent to seafloor mining activity, and which attempt to adequately protect the environment and traditional human uses of the sea.