Deep Sea Mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone


History of Deep Sea Mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone


There has been significant interest in deep sea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone due to the presence of vast amounts of high grade polymetallic nodules there. These make deep sea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone potentially extremely lucrative and commercially viable.

Whilst there have been many attempts at deep sea mining in the CCZ, none have become commercially viable yet. Despite this, there is currently significant work and investment going into commercializing DSM in the CCZ. This activity has primarily been driven by increasing metal prices in the 20202s (mainly due to burgeoning demand for batteries for electric vehicles), combined with nations seeking to reduce their national security risk by reducing their reliance upon potentially hostile states with significant mineral resources.

The history of deep sea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone has (and continues to be!) intriguing, interesting, and worthy of discussion:

1950s-1970s: Early Discovery and Exploration

There was significant early interest and technological progress in deep sea mining in the 1970s with the Kennecott Consortium (and, ironically, with the CIA and Howard Hughes via Project Azorian.)

1980s-1990s: Establishing an Institutional Framework

The 1980s and 1990s represent a deep winter for deep sea mining in general. The technological successes of the 1970s were largely ignored, and interest in deep sea mining waned.

Despite this drop in commercial activity, this period established many of the institutional and regulatory bodies that we rely upon today:

Testing equipment for the Kennecott Consortium
Testing equipment for the Kennecott Consortium

2000s: Rising Interest and Research

The 2000s saw rising interest and awareness of the potential for deep sea mining in the CCZ, and whilst no major operations took place, a number of countries and companies acquired licenses from the ISA.

  • Early 2000s: Rising commodity prices and advancements in technology led to increased interest in deep-sea mining.
  • Mid-2000s: Several countries and private companies initiated exploration contracts with the ISA to explore the CCZ.

2010s: Exploration and Environmental Concerns

  • 2011: The ISA started granting exploration licenses to various governments and private entities for the CCZ, setting off a series of scientific research cruises to understand the region's geology and biology better.
  • Mid-2010s: Growing awareness and concern regarding the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining, including potential damage to deep-sea ecosystems and species.
  • Late 2010s: Environmental NGOs, scientists, and industry stakeholders began debating regulatory frameworks, and best practices to mitigate environmental impacts.

2020s: Technical and Commercial Developments

Rising interest and investment has seen major technical and commercial developments in DSM in the CCZ in the last few years. A number of players have raised large amounts of money, built promising new technology, and have had successful production tests.

The Metals Company Logo
Allseas logo
GSR Logo
  • Early 2020s: The ISA continued working on developing a regulatory code for exploitation, aiming to balance economic interests with environmental protection.
  • 2021: Widespread debate about the readiness of the regulatory framework and calls for a moratorium on deep-sea mining to allow for more comprehensive research on deep-sea ecosystems and the potential impacts of mining.


As we move forward into the 2020s, deep sea mining in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone stands at a crossroads. Technological advancements have made the extraction of deep sea minerals more feasible, and there is a substantial economic incentive driven by the demand for metals in emerging technologies. However, there are pressing environmental concerns, with many arguing for a precautionary approach to protect the deep-sea ecosystems that we still know relatively little about. The future of deep sea mining in the CCZ will ulitimately be shaped by ongoing developments in international regulatory frameworks and the broader societal discussion around the environmental ethics of exploiting deep sea resources.

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Phillip Gales is a serial entrepreneur who has built tech companies in various heavy industries including Oil & Gas, Construction, Real Estate and Supply Chain Logistics. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and young family.

Phillip holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MEng in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cambridge, specialising in Machine Intelligence.