As deep-sea mining decision still hangs in the balance, young Jamaican activists continue to campaign

Solidarity on the waterfront: the 28th Session of the International Seabed Authority started on March 16 with world delegates gathering in Kingston, Jamaica less than two weeks after the Global Ocean Treaty was agreed at the United Nations. The meeting is a critical moment for the future of the oceans, as deep-sea mining companies rush towards the start of this potentially risky industry. Photo © Martin Katz/Greenpeace, used with permission.

They were ready and focused. A collaborative group of Jamaican climate activists, led by the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC) with the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean and supported by Greenpeace USA, geared themselves up for the International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting, which opened on March 16. The group had already begun sensitising the Jamaican public on the threat of deep-sea mining through a major event at the University of the West Indies on January 26, following a campaign launched in September 2022.

The ISA’s Council — 30 of its 36 members attended — closed the first part of its meetings in downtown Kingston, at the 28th session on March 31. The main topic of the 12 days of discussions was the draft regulations governing the exploitation of minerals in the deep-sea bed, an activity with potentially disastrous implications for the environment, marine biodiversity, and climate change itself.

Research, Development and Policy Development co-lead at the Jamaica Youth Climate Council, Dahvia Hylton, welcomes Māori activist and Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner James Hita (centre) and a delegation of Pacific islanders. The group included 20-year-old Māori activist Quack Pirihi, carrying the Tino rangatiratanga (Māori flag). On March 26, Pirihi jumped into the sea in front of a deep-sea mining vessel off the coast of Costa Rica with the message ‘Don’t Mine the Moana’ (Ocean). Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Among the international delegates was a group of activists from several Pacific nations — Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Cook Islands — headed by Māori activist and Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner James Hita. The group arrived from New Zealand on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. At an emotional ceremony on the Kingston Harbour waterfront, Hawaiian elder and Indigenous leader Solomon Kaho’ohalahala, known as “Uncle Sol,” removed his shoes and asked for permission to land on Jamaican soil from the head of the Charlestown Maroons, Colonel Marcia Douglas. The Maroon drumming group provided a rousing welcome, and activists joined together in dancing, celebrating in solidarity.

Left: Solomon Kaho’ohalahala (“Uncle Sol”), Hawaiian Indigenous elder and activist, asks Colonel Marcia Douglas, head of Jamaica's Charlestown Maroons, for permission to land on Jamaican soil by performing a traditional incantation. He arrived with a delegation of activists on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, on the first day of deliberations by the International Seabed Authority on the issue of deep-sea mining. Right: The Charlestown Maroon drummers listen to the formal ceremony on the Kingston waterfront. Photos by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

Greenpeace USA tweeted:

This was just the start of youth activities related to the ISA meeting, which gradually began to gain traction in Jamaican media. The JCCYC and its partners organised protests on the waterfront, directly in front of the Jamaica Conference Centre where the ISA meeting was taking place. Their banners were clearly visible from the coffee lounge area, where delegates took their meal breaks.

The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council's (JCCYC) banner on the Kingston Harbour waterfront. Photo by Emma Lewis, used with permission.

During the meeting, solidarity grew among activists inside the conference centre. In the tweet below, Latin American representative for the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), Daniel Caceres Bartra (to the left of the photo) shared the lens with representatives from the World Wildlife Fund and the Pacific island of Vanuatu, which spearheaded a historic resolution on climate justice alongside youth activists at the United Nations on March 29. Trinidadian Khadija Stewart (seen to the right of the photo) partnered with Jamaican colleagues representing SOA Caribbean:

While the ISA meeting, and the related protests, took place very close to Jamaica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade building on the Kingston waterfront, Alison Stone-Roofe, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to ISA, said the Jamaican government’s approach would be to “remain consultative and to always balance the views of all interested parties.”

Dishearteningly for the campaigners, the talks ended with no clear conclusion, despite strong and growing concerns among some countries. A local online news outlet reported:

ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge, apparently determined to press ahead with mining, stated, “The pressure is now on the ISA Council to deliver. We come together now with the work on the Mining Code well advanced and with six weeks of negotiating time before us.” The Council meets again on July 10, a critical date.

Greenpeace campaigners concluded that negotiators “left the door open” for deep-sea mining to begin as early as July, having “squandered a major opportunity to take action at the 28th Session of the ISA.”

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition declared:

These negotiations have made it abundantly clear that there is a deeply entrenched pro-mining agenda within the ISA Secretariat and the ISA is not fit for purpose. It must be reformed so that it truly acts for the benefit of humankind as a whole.

The JCCYC continued to keep up the pressure until the ISA meeting closed:

While the future of our oceans remains uncertain and the final deadline of July looms, this determined group of Jamaicans has put the issue firmly in front of the Jamaican media and people. Local media continues to take an interest, with several radio and television interviews taking place. The youth group was invited to speak at an Earth Hour event, and SOA’s Robyn Young presented on the topic at a Rotaract Club meeting. Their campaign sparked an editorial in Jamaica’s leading newspaper, calling for Jamaica to “clarify its stance” on the issue.

JCCYC’s Dahvia Hylton, meanwhile, expressed mixed feelings one week after the ISA meeting’s end, pointing out in an online comment to Global Voices:

It has been heartening to see the improved numbers of citizens showing up and caring about the issue of Deep-Sea Mining. It is worrying, however, how quickly the ISA is rushing toward an irresponsible deadline for a new industry that can change the world we live in.

Those of us not in the room are not just spectators to the decisions they make, especially as these decisions affect us too. I look forward to the meetings in July being more open, and more member states making their concerns heard. I congratulate the member states that have been brave enough to join the call for a pause, moratorium or ban on yet another extractive industry.

On Earth Day, April 22, the growing Jamaican movement will visit the White River Fish Sanctuary on the island’s north coast, for a day of activism, music and fellowship, as it seeks to broaden its support. Plans are also being made for school visits on Biodiversity Day, May 22. As activities continue, no doubt the issue of deep-sea mining will be on the agenda; it remains unfinished business, for the Caribbean, the Pacific, and beyond.

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