The International Seabed Authority and marine environmental protection: a case study in implementing the precautionary principle

Aline Lene Jaeckel

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The deep oceans house astonishingly high levels of biodiversity and are critical to the Earth’s ecological health and human well-being. Venturing into this extraordinary environment, human exploration for raw materials has reached new depths with mineral deposits being explored on the deep ocean floor, up to 6000 meters below the surface. Commercial-scale mining of seabed minerals is likely to start in the near future and presents a range of uncertainties as well as risks of significant environmental harm. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has exclusive competence over minerals on the international seabed. It is critically important that the ISA applies a precautionary approach to deep seabed mining to ensure environmental harm will not exceed an acceptable level once mining commences.This thesis examines the environmental mandate of the ISA and the implementation of the precautionary principle by the ISA in its regulation and management of deep seabed mining. In doing so, the analysis is not limited to an examination of the inclusion, or otherwise, of the precautionary principle into the legal framework of the ISA. Rather, this thesis examines the actual implementation of the principle in practice through the work of the ISA. In particular, this thesis examines the ISA’s ongoing work on the development of a system of environmental protection standards and measures as well as procedural safeguards and decision-making processes that facilitate risk assessment and risk management. Synthesising the literature on the meaning and implementation of the precautionary principle, this thesis develops a set of steps, identified as an implementation cycle, by which the precautionary principle can be operationalised. This implementation cycle is then used as the framework against which the ISA’s risk assessment and risk management measures are analysed and evaluated.This thesis identifies strengths in the manner and extent to which the ISA is implementing the precautionary principle. However, it also reveals significant weaknesses and lacunae in the existing regulatory framework of the ISA. This thesis identifies a range of protective measures as well as procedural and institutional arrangements that may be adopted to ensure the precautionary management of deep seabed mining by the ISA.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of New South Wales
  • Rayfuse, Rosemary, Supervisor, External person
  • Williams, Sarah, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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