Eastern Pacific Ocean, 26 March 2023 – 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”. 
“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 . 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 .
The RRS James Cook’s expedition, referred to as Smartex (Seabed Mining And Resilience To EXperimental Impact) , 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  .
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.