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PECC International Seminar (Hybrid): The deep sea: the state of play in Asia-Pacific

From June 13, 2023 until June 14, 2023
Categories: PECC Events, FPTPEC

2023 FPTPEC Deep Sea Seminar


Institutional Partners:


The deep seabed is currently caught up in a debate which exclusively focuses on the issue of its mining. The stakes are certainly massive, while the tension is increasingly acute between the energy and mineral needs of the global economy on the one hand and the need to protect marine biodiversity in the context of the fight against climate change on the other. However, this approach is reductive because the deep sea is likely to provide countless other services to humanity if approached with respect and in a logic of preservation, which is often expressed very well by the Pacific Island cultures.

On June 13 and 14, 2023, the France Pacific Territories Committee of the PECC (FPTPEC) will organize a PECC International seminar in Noumea, New Caledonia, to explore the diversity and complexity of the terms of the debate, with the participation of various stakeholders: companies, researchers, scientists and governments, in order to inform and offer recommendations for the informed implementation of public policies around these still largely unknown virgin spaces. Some Pacific and Indian Ocean economies have either already obtained the expansion of their EEZ or are awaiting positive responses for their exploitation and/or protection. In this context, it would be unwise to mix exploration and exploitation, at the risk of irreparably damaging this common good of humanity; thus it seems urgent to propose elements of thought to state decision-makers.

The aim is to draw up an inventory of the knowledge of the seabed and its potential beyond the mining aspects alone, particularly in terms of scientific research and global health, but also to shed light on the technological and economic challenges for access to this knowledge and competitiveness in these sectors. The issue of mining and energy exploitation will be addressed from the perspective of the expectations of the countries of the region in search of materials to meet the new requirements of the fight against pollution or global warming and the environmental risks that it generates and ways to prevent them. Finally, the cultural and sociological issues will be the subject of particular attention, taking into account the contribution of local populations in the preservation of these spaces.

This seminar is part of the FPTPEC's work on the "blue economy", which is part of the PECC's program and which led to a general seminar in 2022 in Tahiti. It is also in line with the French President's agenda on ocean governance, with the hosting of the United Nations Conference on the Oceans in 2025 in France, jointly with Costa Rica. Finally, it intends to contribute to the reflections of the international community within the framework of the UNESCO decade on the oceans.


 Program (Time zone: Pacific / Noumea )


13 June 2023, Tuesday

08:30 - 09:15

Opening and welcoming speech  

09:30 - 10:45

Session 1: Deep-sea governance: can we really get everyone to agree?
The diversity of issues surrounding the deep seabed makes its governance a particularly sensitive and complex subject. The deep seabed is legally framed by international treaties that seek to respond to competing issues, between resource exploitation for development purposes on the one hand and environmental protection, sometimes absolute, on the other.

The era is marked by power rivalries that push certain actors to monopolize the resources that are indispensable for technological development. At the same time, the crucial role of the oceans in the fight against climate change and the preservation of biodiversity has been established, other actors are adopting very cautious postures regarding the exploitation, or even the exploration of the deep sea.

How can existing instruments be used to reconcile these approaches? Are new instruments needed for the deep seabed? Finally, how can we ensure that the existing legal framework is effectively applied?

11:00 - 12:15

Session 2: The Pacific Islander approach: what if the deep sea had a soul?
The issue of the deep seabed is often approached in a purely technical manner, from the point of view of exploration or exploitation, or, at the other extreme, from the point of view of the sanctuary without exception, as if the presence of man were to disappear entirely. This approach tends to reduce the alternatives and oversimplify the issue of the deep sea, particularly in its cultural and sociological aspects. However, most Pacific island peoples have always lived in a symbiotic relationship with the ocean, which covers both natural and cultural dimensions. It is significant, for example, that in French Polynesia the Minister for the Environment is also the Minister for Culture. In this perspective, the deep sea is not just an object to be exploited or protected, but an environment with which we are in a relationship and which engages our body and soul.

How do the island peoples of the Pacific think about the issue of the deep seas, beyond their relationship with the ocean? Can they contribute a viewpoint, drawn from their culture and traditions, which allows for the development of an original approach to the deep sea? How can their perspective be taken into account in international discussions?

14:15 - 15:30 

Session 3: Twenty thousand leagues under the sea: how can one live at the bottom of the ocean?
Today, the deep ocean is emerging as one of mankind's new frontiers, on a par with space and the infinitely small. Unlike outer space - or what we know of it - the deep seabed is teeming with a vitality the extent of which is still largely unknown to us, and which represents a particularly important scientific and economic potential, particularly in the medical and industrial fields. The extreme conditions of the deep-sea environment have led to an adaptation of flora and fauna that has generated a biodiversity of extraordinary richness and plurality. It's also worth pointing out that life, of which we are currently the most extreme link, originated in the deep sea. Naturally, the question of preserving these marine biological resources is an acute one, but in terms that are undoubtedly different from those of preserving mineral resources.

So what do we know today about the biological resources of the deep sea? What promise does this unique biodiversity hold for research and for a host of applications in medicine, cosmetics and industry? At a time when the contribution of the oceans to climate equilibrium is becoming increasingly clear, how can we make the most of this heritage in a sustainable way?

15:45 - 17:00

Session 4: Journey to the center of... the sea: what technological challenges?
How do you descend to the bottom of the sea? Since Swiss explorer Jacques Piccard's famous descent to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, exploration technologies have evolved enormously. New advances hold out the promise of unprecedented exploration possibilities, particularly in terms of observation, but also with an ever-greater capacity for interaction, intervention and even exploitation in these hitherto largely inaccessible environments. The issues involved in installing and securing submarine cables, a crucial infrastructure for the circulation of digital data and therefore for the global economy, are becoming increasingly sensitive.

How is technological innovation currently serving deep-sea knowledge, and what progress can we expect in the coming years? How can the development of non-invasive exploration technologies contribute to deep-sea preservation? Finally, what are the issues involved in the "technological exploitation" of the deep seabed, in particular through various infrastructures such as cables, future deep-sea observatories, or the search for and location of underwater objects: emblematic shipwrecks, black boxes from aircraft damaged at sea, space waste...?

18:00 - 19:30 

Special Session: The Ocean at the heart of global issues: what role for the Indo-Pacific at the United Nations Ocean Conference (Nice, June 2025)
Together with Costa Rica, France will organize the third United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC), in Nice, from June 5 to 14, 2025. This highly awaited « Ocean Action Conference » will be a unique opportunity to mobilize the international community around the major issues affecting the ocean. It is indeed essential that all the actors involved - leaders, researchers, private entreprises, civil society - commit themselves much more strongly today in favor of a sustainable Ocean, mobilizing all the means at their disposal, from scientific knowledge to technology, from legal instruments to financial means.

In this context, the Indo-Pacific region, which includes the largest part of the world's ocean, and many of its leading political, economic and scientific stakeholders, has an essential role to play.

In particular, how could the Indo-pacific be strongly involved in the creation of the International Panel on Ocean Sustainability (IPOS), one of the UNOC deliverables to be presented at the One Ocean Science Conference in Nice (5-7 June 2025, Nice)? In the context of climate change, sea level rise, and the need for more scientific exploration of the deep seas and marine policy of the high seas, what specific contributions from the Indo-Pacific actors are expected to building financial instruments to repair and sustainably use the ocean? More generally, how could the voices of the largest maritime region in the world be better heard in the international negotiations and in the Nice Ocean Action plan which would be the outcome of the next UN. OC?           


14 June 2023, Wednesday

09:00 - 10:15

Session 5: A bottomless problem : what to do with the mineral resources at the bottom of the oceans?
The question of deep-sea mineral and energy resources is a complex one, particularly in the Pacific islands, as it involves economic, social, environmental and geopolitical issues. It crystallizes tensions reflecting the diversity of visions and positions in a sensitive context of climate change and ecological transition.

However, knowledge of these resources and their real stakes, benefits and associated risks is still limited, and it seems essential to adopt a holistic approach to encourage the emergence of collective approaches and open new perspectives.

What mineral resources are we talking about, and why are they important in terms of humanity's future challenges (development, social models, ecological and food transition)? What are the risks and how can we manage them? What approaches should be developed on a large scale to avoid arbitrary, antagonistic positions in the face of our collective responsibilities for the ocean?

10:30 - 11:45

Session 6: The vertigo of safeguarding: today preservation, tomorrow... restoration?
Even if they still hold many secrets, the oceans have already largely demonstrated the role they play in the balance of the planet's biodiversity, and it is likely that the deep seas play an absolutely structuring role within the hydrosphere. Thus the issue of their preservation is not debated, beyond the existing tension between the issues of development and economic growth which push for marine exploitation of the deep sea on the one hand, and a protective approach which aims to radically protect the deep sea on the other. However, in many situations, the issue of preservation may quickly give way to issues of regeneration, as it is likely that human action in the deep sea will damage this complex and sometimes fragile environment.

What do we know about the contribution of the deep seas to the preservation of the major global balances, both climatically and biologically? How can we preserve the deep seas from possible degradation by human activity? How can we also restore, when the damage has already been done or is still to come, due to human failings or negligence?

14:00 - 16:00

Session 7: Conclusions and Recommendations