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More than just bugs and bioprospecting in the abyss: designing an international legal regime for the sustainable management of deep-sea hydrothermal vents beyond national jurisdiction

posted on 29.03.2022, 02:30 by David Kenneth Leary
The unique biological communities associated with hydrothermal vents are of intense interest to science and for the potential the microorganisms associated with these ecosystems offer for developments in biotechnology. Rich deposits of gold, copper and other minerals associated with hydrothermal vents are also of increasing interest to the mining industry. Mining, bioprospecting, marine scientific research and other emerging activities, such as tourism at hydrothermal vents, pose as yet unquantified threats to deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems. -- With the exception of deep-sea mining, these activities are largely unregulated in areas beyond national jurisdiction under international law. Neither the Convention on Biological Diversity or the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea have meaningful application to such activities beyond national jurisdiction. It has previously been suggested that given a comprehensive legal regime already exists for the mineral resources of the deep-sea beyond national jurisdiction, an "intriguing question" needs to be addressed as to whether a legal and institutional regime should be created for the genetic resources of the deep-sea beyond national jurisdiction. It is argued that the issue of the fair and equitable utilization of the genetic resources of the deep-sea beyond national jurisdictions is only a subsidiary issue to a much broader question. That is how can all human activities that have an environmental impact on the deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystem be sustainably managed, so that this particularly unique ecosystem of international significance is preserved for future generations? -- Reasons to justify the design of an international legal regime for the sustainable management of deep-sea hydrothermal vents beyond national jurisdiction are outlined. While there is a lacuna in the law with respect to the application of both LOSC and the CBD, measures could onetheless be developed within the framework of other existing treaties. A number of regional and other treaties arguably apply to some hydrothermal vent sites. The uncertainty of the coastal States sovereign rights in relation to hydrothermal vents on the continental shelf and, in particular, problems in applying the sedentary species definition under the Continental Shelf Regime are also considered. -- It is suggested that no useful purpose is served by considering whether or not to designate hydrothermal vents and their associated genetic resources as the common heritage of mankind. This concept has no defined meaning under international law (as distinct from its political or rhetorical meaning) except as expressed in LOSC. -- Examination of emerging domestic legal regimes in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Papua New Guinea highlight that any future legal regime will need to accommodate multiple and at times conflicting uses. In reconciling the conflicting uses it will be important to harness the skills of key stakeholders such as the scientific community. Similarly existing tools such as environmental impact assessment and marine protected areas must have a role to play in any future legal regime. -- Evidence of the extent of commercialisation of hydrothermal vent genetic resources is presented. For any future regime to properly address the issue of benefit sharing in relation to hydrothermal vent genetic resources it is argued that it will be necessary to link any such regime with existing mechanisms associated with intellectual property rights, especially patents. A proposal is outlined linking the grant of future patents to payment of royalties to a global commons trust fund. This fund could be managed by existing institutions such as the Global Environment Facility and regional development banks, and could be used as a mechanism to provide a new source of funds for measures for the sustainable management of hydrothermal vents beyond national jurisdiction and the marine environment more generally. -- The core issue associated with scientific research is its environmental impact. A proposal is outlined for scientific research to be regulated by States implementing an environmental impact assessment procedure under domestic law modelled on the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, which is linked to government funding for scientific research. -- Finally the thesis rejects the idea of an expanded mandate for the International Seabed Authority.


Alternative Title

Designing an international legal regime for the sustainable management of deep-sea hydrothermal vents beyond national jurisdiction.


Bibliography: p. 373-482

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Law, Centre for Environmental Law

Department, Centre or School

Centre for Environmental Law

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Michael Jeffery


Copyright disclaimer: http://www.copyright.mq.edu.au Copyright David Kenneth Leary 2005.




xix, 500 p . ill., maps

Former Identifiers

mq:13295 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/120275 1448953