Greenpeace confronts deep sea mining expedition in the Pacific Ocean

Greenpeace International

Originally posted here.

Eastern Pacific Ocean – Greenpeace International activists peacefully confronted UK Royal Research Ship James Cook in the East Pacific waters as it returned from a seven-week long expedition to a section of the Pacific Ocean targeted for deep sea mining. An activist scaled the side of the moving vessel to unfurl a banner reading “Say No to Deep Sea Mining”, while two Māori Indigenous activists swam in front of the RRS James Cook, one holding the Māori flag and the other a flag reading “Don’t Mine the Moana”.[1]

“While political tensions flare over whether to allow deep sea mining to start, commercial interests are pressing ahead at sea like it’s a done deal. As if sending a ship to enable further destruction of our ecosystems wasn’t offensive enough, sending one named after the most notorious coloniser of the Pacific is a cruel insult. For too long, Pacific peoples have been excluded from decisions that impact our territories and waters. If governments don’t stop this industry from starting, the darkest days of history will repeat. We reject a future with deep sea mining”, said James Hita, Māori activist and Pacific lead for Greenpeace International’s deep sea mining campaign.

Delegates from world governments are currently gathered at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica, to debate whether or not this destructive industry could get a greenlight this year.[2] Meanwhile, deep sea mining firm UK Seabed Resources is using the RRS James Cook’s expedition — funded by public money from the UK — to take further steps toward beginning mining tests even before negotiations have a chance to conclude.[3]

The RRS James Cook’s expedition, referred to as Smartex (Seabed Mining And Resilience To EXperimental Impact)[3], is publicly funded in the UK by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) with partners including the Natural History Museum, British Geological Survey, and JNCC as well as a number of UK universities. The UK sponsors some of the largest areas for deep sea mining exploration, covering 133,000km of the Pacific Ocean

More than 700 scientists from 44 countries have already opposed the industry by signing an open letter calling for a pause. “Marine ecosystems and biodiversity are in decline and now is not the time to start industrial exploitation of the deep sea. A moratorium is needed to give us time to fully understand the potential impacts of deep-sea mining to make a decision as to whether to go ahead with it. I personally have lost trust in the current management of the ISA to make this decision, and it is very clear that a few people, driven by economic interest, have distorted a process which should represent the interests of all of humankind,” said Alex Rogers, professor of biology at Oxford University and Director of Science at REV Ocean.

The Smartex Expedition visited one of these areas licensed for exploration and returned to sites where previous test mining took place in 1979 to monitor the long-term impacts of mining. Greenpeace International calls for all data on the ecosystem impact from seabed mining 44 years ago to be made available to help inform governments debating at the ongoing ISA meeting. 

Deep sea mining firm UK Seabed Resources is a Smartex project partner and its former parent company’s website states that this expedition is “the next phase of its exploration programme” – making it a necessary step towards the company’s planned mining tests later this year.[4][5] 

This is not the first time concerns have been raised during ISA meetings to distinguish between research to enhance humanity’s understanding of the deep sea and exploration activities for deep sea mining. A letter signed by 29 deep sea scientists, delivered at a previous ISA session, stated that: “The international seabed belongs to all of us collectively. We recognise the privilege and responsibility of studying deep ocean systems for the benefit of human knowledge. Scientific research to understand how deep-sea ecosystems function and support vital processes is distinct from activities carried out under exploration contracts granted by the International Seabed Authority”.

Negotiations at the ISA meeting continue until 31 March. Last week diplomats accused the head of the ISA, Michael Lodge, of having lost the impartiality demanded by his position and interfering with the decision making of governments at the ISA to accelerate mining. 


Photos and video available from the Greenpeace Media Library

Notes (see Greenpeace's press release for additional links)

[1] For Pacific peoples, especially in Te Ao Māori mythologies, Moana encompasses the seas from shallow rock pools to the deepest depths of the high seas. Moana is the ocean. And with this, it speaks to the intrinsic relationship that all Pacific peoples have with the Moana. 

[2] 31 contracts to explore for deep sea mining viability, covering over a million square kilometres of the international seabed, have been given out by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Rich nations dominate the development of deep sea mining, sponsoring 18 of the 31 exploration licences. China holds an additional 5 contracts, meaning only a quarter of the exploration contracts are held by developing nations. No African nation sponsors mineral exploration of the deep sea, and only Cuba from the Latin American region partly sponsors a licence as part of a consortium with 5 European nations.

[3] This expedition is part of the UK deep sea mining company’s exploration programme for deep sea mining, according to the company’s website, with the company’s 2020 environmental summary report detailing UK Seabed Resources’s involvement in Smartex from its early stages and referring to the company’s “material commitment” to the project. The company’s desire to move from exploration to exploitation is evident in UK Seabed Resources’ public calls for governments to allow deep sea mining to start as soon as possible. Two staff members of UK Seabed Resources, including its director Christopher Willams, are listed as part of the Smartex project team. These mining company officials have also attended the International Seabed Authority negotiations as part of the UK Government delegation (Steve Persall in 2018, Christopher Williams several times but most recently in November 2022). This expedition paves the way for the British deep sea mining company to test mining machinery later in 2023. The expedition website details how the James Cook has been collecting baseline data for potential new tests in UK’s mining exploration sites, with a planned follow-up expedition in 2024 after the mining tests

[4] UKSR described its recent change in ownership as part of transitioning from exploratory activities “towards a credible path to exploitation,” although the decision to open up the ocean to mining lies with governments. Loke, the Norwegian company buying UKSR, described the move as “a natural continuation of the strong existing UK-Norway strategic cooperation in the offshore oil and gas industry”.

[5] UKSR was, until recently, owned by the UK arm of the US company Lockheed Martin. On March 16, Loke Marine Minerals announced that it had acquired UKSR. Loke’s Chairman, Hans Olav Hide, told Reuters: “We’ve got the approval from the UK government… Our ambition is to start extraction from 2030.”


  • For interviews at the ISA in Kingston: Louisa Casson, Senior campaigner for the Stop Deep Sea Mining Campaign, Greenpeace International, [email protected], +44 (0) 7772304063
  • In London: Sol Gosetti, Media Coordinator for the Stop Deep Sea Mining campaign, Greenpeace International: [email protected], +44 (0) 7807352020, WhatsApp +44 (0) 7380845754
  • Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)