A deep dive: Young Jamaican climate activists collaborate to raise awareness of deep-sea mining

Lauren Creary, programme director, Jamaica Environment Trust, at the “Deep Sea Matters’ event in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

A team of young Jamaican advocates, led by the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC) and supported by partners including Greenpeace USA, recently came together to present an in-depth look at the issue of deep-sea mining, especially as it relates to the Caribbean.

Part expo, part town hall meeting facilitated by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) Caribbean, University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Institute for Sustainable Development and Centre for Environmental Management, the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, the Institute of Jamaica, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), the theme of the awareness-raising event cut straight to the point: “Deep Sea Matters.”

One of the reasons Jamaica has found itself at the heart of this discussion is that the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN agency, is headquartered in Kingston, where deliberations on whether to go ahead with deep-sea mining have reached a critical stage.

A student of Old Harbour High School concentrating hard in the audience at the ‘Deep Sea Matters’ event. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Young Jamaicans are deeply worried that time is running out as the ISA works to finalise rules that might enable it to start deep-sea mining in earnest as early as in the next few months. This was precipitated by the triggering of a “two-year rule” in June 2021 by the Pacific island of Nauru, which is sponsoring The Metals Company to conduct mining for polymetallic nodules in a wide area of the deep ocean.

Earlier this year, a leaked video showed pollution flowing into the sea during a mining test by The Metals Company. While several countries in the region (including Costa Rica, whose representative shared his country's position at the event) are expressing concern and calling for a “pause” or moratorium, and France has voted for an outright ban on deep-sea mining, others seem intent on pressing ahead. Jamaica itself signed a contract in 2021 to sponsor Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited.

The “Deep Sea Matters” event took place at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in Kingston, in an open, breezy space where at least 200 university and high school students, activists, invited diplomats, environmentalists and educators stood, sat, or stopped to listen and browse information booths.

Panellists were Dahvia Hylton (research, advocacy and policy development co-lead at JCCYC; Robyn Young, marine scientist and projects and administrative coordinator at SOA Caribbean; Christopher Corbin, senior coordination officer at the United Nations Environment Programme Cartagena Convention Secretariat and Caribbean Environment Programme in Kingston; and Laleta Davis-Mattis, lecturer in the Faculty of Law at UWI. The moderator was environmental activist and communicator, Dainalyn Swaby.

The event achieved its aim of raising public awareness of deep-sea mining and continuing the dialogue — which included many different views — around it. Youth participation was high, and the young people seemed really engaged. According to moderator Dainalyn Swaby though, who is also an environmental communicator at Global Yaadie, broader discussions also need to be taking place:

There’s a reason we have conversations with experts and persons who are close to the subject matter — to be guided — but there must be a willingness to have the conversations to move forward. We need to have some sort of mainstream conversation on deep-sea mining.

One JCCYC panellist, Dahvia Hylton, asked a pertinent question that got people thinking:

Is the move towards deep-sea mining turning us into colonisers, ready to go and mine in another region?

Conversely, participant Laleta Davis Mattis suggested:

The ISA is fit for purpose and doing its work […] The ‘common heritage of mankind’ means that humankind should benefit, including developing countries. Countries like ours have a right to development.

Conservationist Felix Charnley and Reanne McKenzie, sanctuary manager, White River Fish Sanctuary, at the ‘Deep Sea Matters’ event. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Conservationists like Felix Charnley, however, remain concerned. While he was heartened by the attendance of so many students and young people at the forum and happy to see the country's “top academic institution” mobilising around the topic of deep-sea mining, he noted:

It is terrifying that if regulations aren't agreed upon by July, the International Seabed Authority could go ahead and issue licenses for deep-sea mining this year.

UNEP panellist Christopher Corbin echoed his concern:

We have over-exploited our land, and we are thinking, ‘Where shall we go next?’ But is deep-sea mining the only choice we have for minerals?

SOA Caribbean panellist Robyn Young was firmly on the side of ocean conservation, saying:

Our destinies are entwined with the ocean … I just want to do my small part because small ripples make big waves. As long as there are people like me who are ocean lovers and ocean activists, that are ready and willing to help and take a stand for what they know is right and what they know the environment needs, then there is definitely hope.

In the context of the climate crisis, this is a pivotal year for deep-sea mining, and the young Jamaican advocates on the ground are not missing a beat. Dahvia Hylton put it this way:

You ask how [deep-sea mining] affects Jamaica? It is affecting our very soul […] It affects us; everything — and the youth know it. Is profit more important than our planet?

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