Strategic Environmental Goals and Objectives: Setting the basis for environmental regulation of deep seabed mining

Marine Policy


Deep seabed mining is a major new intersection of human enterprise and deep-ocean ecosystems. This paper reviews the concept and process for a holistic approach to planning environmental management in the deep sea based on Strategic Environmental Goals and Objectives. Strategic planning around the environment can establish a vision for the future condition of the ocean floor for which the International Seabed Authority (ISA) can draw on a wealth of precedents and experience. By engaging stakeholders and applying current knowledge of deep ecosystems, the ISA can build meaningful strategic environmental goals and objectives that give guidance to its own operation and those of its contractors. This framework builds understanding of the organization’s aspirations at global, regional and contractor levels. Herein, some examples are suggested, but we focus on the process. To operationalize these goals and objectives, progress must be measurable; thus, targets are set, reports are assessed, and appropriate responses are awarded. Many management tools and actions are applicable for achieving environmental goals. To date, the ISA has considered marine spatial planning largely around the current exploration contract blocks. Other elements of environmental management, including the requirements for baseline studies, impact assessment, post-impact monitoring and the treatment of harmful effects and serious harm need to be implemented to support well-defined environmental goals and objectives. We suggest that this planning be executed for scales larger than individual blocks, through a Strategic Environmental Management Plan, to ensure sustainable use of ocean resources across the Area.

November 2018
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Mineral extraction
Nature protection
Type of Issue: 
Economic aspects
Ecosystem-based approach
Type of practice: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What is the role of the International Seabed Authority?
  • How are harmful effects caused by seabed mining exploitation assessed?
  • Which management actions can be implemented to meet environmental goals and objectives in the context of seabed mining exploitation?  

Implementation Context:

This study was drafted within the context of the development of the ISA's Mining Code.

Aspects / Objectives:

The aim of this study is to address the variability of management tools which can be considered when implementing an environmental strategy.


This study reviews the international standards both for creating overarching environmental goals and objectives and for implementing mechanisms to achieve them.

Main Outputs / Results:

This paper reviews the concept and process for a holistic approach to planning environmental management in the deep sea based on Strategic Environmental Goals and Objectives.


This practice concerns the establishment of environmental goals in the context of seabed mining exploitation; it is thus transferable to any similar situation. 

Responsible Entity:

Department of Biology and School of Earth/Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada.

Costs / Funding Source:

Preliminary discussions that led to this paper took place in a workshop (DOSI ‘EREGS’) funded by generous support from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the J.M. Kaplan Fund who also funded support for discussions at ISA in Jamaica and at United Nations side events (Award no. 1579-20162011 and 20181824). Participation in the Berlin Workshop for LAL and ERL was funded by the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany. VT is funded by the Canada Research Chairs Foundation. ERL is funded by NIVA, the PEW Charitable Trusts and the Norwegian MarMine project (co-funded by the Norwegian Research Council under grant no. 247626/O30 and industrial partners). LAL received support from JM Kaplan and PEW Charitable Trusts. Funders had no role in preparation of this manuscript.

Contact person:

Verena Tunnicliffe: