Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) student Megan Cook used her Master's Project (MP) to examine the International Seabed Authority’s Regional Environmental Management Planning (REMP) efforts for the Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge and North West Pacific Ocean to review how unique mineral provinces, presence of vulnerable marine ecosystems, and data clarity or paucity have influenced the suggestion of a suite of management approaches across the seabed. This project develops a data hierarchy to illustrate the precision of knowledge guiding current REMP planning and provides recommendations for future REMPs in other data-poor ocean regions. 

Duke Environment recently corresponded with Cook to discuss the key findings of his MP and why she chose this project.

What are the key findings of your MP? 

  • The deep sea remains largely unexplored and uncharacterized, but many drivers are motivating a move toward developing a marine mineral mining industry, governed by the UN International Seabed Authority in international waters. 
  • Data paucity in the basic characterization of the seafloor severely challenges the regional-scale environmental management planning process in action now to establish environmental protection ahead of potential seabed mining impacts.   
  • In the cases of both the Northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge and North West Pacific regions, the International Seabed Authority has not yet completed nominating regions of protection on the seafloor through their Regional Environmental Management Planning (REMP) process.  
  • Especially evident in the North West Pacific, a severe lack of seafloor structure and ecosystem information has limited the underpinnings for instituting protections. 
  • Despite current outcomes, international stakeholder collaboration has been robust working to understand the region and management implications of this new industry before it begins.
  • Mining contractor exploration surveys will provide new information about the deep sea, but there remains significant room for improvement in standardizing survey standards and methodology to generate data meaningful to the management process. Without expanded efforts to characterize the deep ocean at a large scale both inside and outside of economically interesting mineral provinces, data will continue to be lacking for truly eco-regional analysis and management.  

What have you learned from doing this project that will help you in your career?  

There will always be uncertainty in environmental management planning. This project advanced my skills in building structures to assess uncertainty and clarify foundation principles in decision-making. I’ve gained experience working in international governance and advanced my own skills distilling complexity in multiparty negotiated environmental issues.  

What drew you to this project/client? 

With a passion for understanding the dark and salty places on the planet (the seafloor) and nearly a decade of professional work in the deep ocean, I remain eager to engage in the emergence of a new seabed industry. I feel so fortunate to have been able to join Pat Halpin and the Duke Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab (MGEL) in diving deeper on the subject. Halpin and the MGEL are internationally recognized experts in these proceedings through their facilitating role with International Seabed Authority’s Secretariat and REMP process.  

The Master’s Project combines the academic rigor of a thesis with the practical experience of an internship, allowing students to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to projects that tackle real-world environmental challenges.