KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 9 (UPI) -- As is so often the case, business interests are outpacing regulatory protections -- this time in the realm of deep-sea drilling.
According to a new report from the conservation group Center for Ocean Solutions, mining and drilling companies are making plans to extract natural resources from previously untapped deep seabeds, yet protections for the ocean floor remain limited.
The Center for Ocean Solutions' new policy paper, published in the journal Science, calls on the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to address the ocean floor's currently lax environmental protections, in the face of growing industrial interests.
"Our purpose is to point out that the ISA has an important opportunity to create networks of no-mining Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as part of the regulatory framework they are considering at their July meeting," Lisa Wedding, a scientist with the group and lead author of the new paper, explained in a recent press release. "The establishment of regional MPA networks in the deep sea could potentially benefit both mining and biodiversity interests by providing more economic certainty and ecosystem protection."
The ISA is a U.N.-backed intergovernmental organization tasked with regulating mining activities in the seabed outside national jurisdiction. The body, which has already granted more than two dozen exploratory permits to national and private mining interests, is currently meeting in Kingston, Jamaica.
Conservation groups are calling on the body to cease issuing permits until stronger regulatory protections are established.
"Deep-sea areas targeted by mining claims frequently harbor high biodiversity and fragile habitats, and may have very slow rates of recovery from physical disturbance," said Craig Smith, report co-author and professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Sought after for the minerals and rare earth metals that may exist there, these dark ocean floors are far from public eyes, making keeping tabs on environmental damage is especially difficult. That's all the more reason, activists say, to establish more expansive protections.
"The time is now to protect this important part of the planet for current and future generations," added Larry Crowder, report co-author and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "Decisions that affect us all will be made by the ISA this summer."