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September 27, 2021
National Institute for Environmental Studies(NIES)

Survey Methodology for Environmental Impact Assessment in Seabed Resources Development Published as an International Standard

1. Key points of the presentation

Survey and monitoring methods for seabed mining assessments developed in Japan have been published as the world's first international standards by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Japan has taken the lead in establishing a working group on marine environmental impact assessments in the ISO committee.
It is expected this will contribute to the formulation of marine environmental guidelines and marine surveys by domestic and international organizations.

2. Outline

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) (President: Tadashi Matsunaga) has been working with the Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP, *1) of the Cabinet Office to develop new environmental survey methods for marine environments, especially for deep-sea mining. JAMSTEC has been conducting the development of environmental survey and monitoring methods in cooperation with the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES, President: Masahide Kimoto) in the first phase of the SIP (*2), and in the second phase (*3) testing practices during research cruises for baseline surveys in cooperation with J-MARES (*4). In 2019, we developed the following four technical standards based on the developed methods and proposed them to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for technical review. In July 2021, three of the standards (ISO 23731, 23732, and 23734) were published as international standards by the ISO committee (TC8/SC13), and the remaining one (ISO 23730) was accepted to be published after the final vote. This achievement is expected to help standardize environmental impact assessments of seabed mining and be used as a fixed method for monitoring the marine environment.

3. Background

The development of submarine resources continues to attract attention due to the increasing global demand for mineral resources. On the other hand, environmental groups and a consortium of scientists have pointed out the inadequacy of research on deep-sea ecosystems and expressed concerns about sustainable development. In the areas where seabed resources are distributed, such as hydrothermal vents where hydrothermal deposits are formed, seamounts where cobalt rich crusts are formed, and the deep seafloor where manganese nodules and rare earth metals are found, there are also diverse biological communities, including undescribed species. Some of these areas are known as "hot spots" of biodiversity. In order to use the seabed ecosystem sustainably without seriously damaging it, we need to study the distribution of the organisms living there and their habitat conditions, and investigate the robustness/resilience of the biological community to environmental changes, so that we can develop methods to mitigate the impact.

The International Seabed Authority (*5), which has jurisdiction over seabed resources on the high seas, has proposed guidelines for environmental surveys when developing seabed mineral resources, and requires contracting countries to conduct periodic environmental surveys. In the ISA’s international mining area off the coast of Hawaii or in hydrothermally active areas, research surveys have been conducted and many reports have been published. In the meantime, as commercial marine resource development begins, the development of deep-sea survey and monitoring technologies that can be used by the private sector will be necessary. The goal of the SIP project is technology transfer to the private sector and practical application to collect environmental baseline data and monitor deep-sea environments.

4. Results

With respect to the international standardization work, a working group (*6) on environmental impact assessment of the ocean was first established in the ISO committee dealing with ocean technology (ISO TC8 SC13) at the request of Japan. The working group has been lead by Mr. Koichi Yoshida (Yokohama National University). The draft of the standard was prepared by selecting methods that could be used as a technical standard from the development methods already registered in the archives of international organizations for marine survey technology (*7). The members from Japan, Tomo Kitahashi, Tetsuya Miwa, Dhugal Lindsay, Hiroyuki Yamamoto (JAMSTEC), Miyuki Nishijima, Kentaro Inomata (ex-JAMSTEC, now TechnoSuruga Laboratory Co., Ltd.), and Masanobu Kawachi, Hirosi Koshikawa (NIES) participated in the working group. At the working group and committee meetings in 2018, Japan's proposal was approved as a new working draft with the support of the participating countries, and after review and revision in the working groups held thereafter, it was approved for publication as the international standards for technical specifications shown below in the 2021 ballot.

5. Published technical standards

ISO 23730 General technical requirement on marine environmental impact assessments
This is a standard concerning methods and procedures for carrying out the basic items required for marine environmental impact assessments. This standard also incorporates the other ISOs (soundscape, geographic information) and the following standards proposed by Japan as its components (Fig. 1).
Available at: https://www.iso.org/standard/76786.html

ISO 23731 Long-term in-situ imaged-based surveys in deep-sea environments
This is a standard for procedures and settings for long-term in-situ camera observations with subsea instruments. This standard is applicable to both submersible probes and seabed-mounted instruments, and can also be applied to video observation methods using platforms such as Japan’s domestically produced "Edokko Mark 1" series (*8). By standardizing the observation method, we were able to facilitate comparative studies with observation results from different locations (Fig. 2).
Available at: https://www.iso.org/standard/76787.html

ISO23732 General protocol for observation of meiofaunal community
This is a standard for efficient procedures to determine the abundance, morphology and community composition of small benthic organisms (meiofauna) living in marine sediments. In conventional survey methods, individuals are sorted by hand while being observed under a microscope. This standard establishes a rapid and efficient survey procedure by combining sample preparation with FlowCam (particle image analyzer) and metagenomics (*9) (Fig. 3)
Available at: https://www.iso.org/standard/76788.html

ISO 23734 Onboard bioassay for seawater quality monitoring using delayed fluorescence of microalgae
This is a standard for an offshore bioassay method designed for monitoring water quality during the development of seabed mineral resources. This standard specifies a marine test organism Cyanobium sp. (NIES-981) that is suitable for water quality monitoring. By combining the test organism with delayed fluorescence measurements, it was possible to save equipment space and shorten test time compared to the traditional bioassay methods. The delayed fluorescence can be measured using a photon detection unit (*10). Water quality monitoring at developing sites can be carried out quickly at offshore onboard without transferring samples to a land-based facility and is expected to rapidly determine the potential impacts on marine organisms on-site (Fig. 4)
Available at: https://www.iso.org/standard/76789.html

6. Future Prospects

The approval and publication of the methods as international standards is expected to promote their inclusion in the ISA guidelines for environmental surveys and use in commercial-based surveys around the world. And these standards are expected to be used not only for seabed mining assessments but also for environmental impact assessments and surveys of the marine environment in a wide range of marine fields.

[Supplementary Explanation]

Cross-ministerial Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP)
The Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (CSTI) of the Cabinet Office of Japan has established this program to realize science and technology innovation by exercising its own command tower function and playing a leading role in management that transcends the boundaries of government ministries and traditional fields.
Available at: https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/gaiyo/sip/
Next generation submarine resource research technology
A marine issue selected in the first phase (FY2014-2018) of the SIP. Technology for low-cost and high-efficiency surveys of marine mineral resources and technology for environmental surveys and monitoring were established, and the technology was transferred to the private sector.
Innovative technology for deep-sea resource research
An oceanographic subject selected in the second phase (FY2018-2022) of the SIP. The aim is to establish and demonstrate innovative deep-sea resource survey technologies for mineral resources such as rare earth muds on the deep seafloor in a step-by-step manner ahead of the rest of the world, and to pave the way for the establishment of an industrialization model for the future by promoting social implementation.
The abbreviation for the Research and Development Partnership for Next Generation Technology of Marine Resources Survey, established as a technology cooperative association.
Available at: https://www.j-mares.com/hpsrc/hp11_outlinetukumiai.html
International Seabed Authority (ISA):
This international organization was established in 1994 to manage mineral resources on the deep seafloor in the high seas as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to develop resources with consideration for the effective conservation of the seabed environment.
Available at: https://www.isa.org.jm
ISO committees and working groups
A new working group (ISO/TC8/SC13/WG4) was set up at the request of Japan to address Marine Environmental Impact Assessments. This group belongs to the ISO committee on ships and marine technology (technical committee 8/subcommittee 13).
Archives of international organizations
An archive of information on oceanographic research and observations maintained under the umbrella of UNESCO's International Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).
The Ocean Best Practices System Repository (OBPS-R)
Available at: http://www.oceanbestpractices.net/handle/11329/359
Edokko Mark I
The Edokko-Mark 1 is a free-fall small-lander type of deep-sea exploration vehicle developed by the Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises. It uses a video monitoring method for highly efficient and low-cost seafloor observations. Commercialized by Okamoto Glass Co. Ltd.
Available at: https://ogc-jp.com/productuse/energy/cat19/
Metagenomic analysis
A method to analyze the composition and function of the entire microbial community in the environment by reading the genetic information from DNA extracted from environmental samples.
Photon detection unit
Scheduled to be commercialized by Hamamatsu Photonics K.K. (C13796-01-A1). A single photon counting unit that is designed for counting low light emissions. Delayed fluorescence can be measured by using the excitation light source unit (A9860-01).





(For this study)
Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Project Principal Researcher
Project Team for Development of Innovative technologies for exploration on Deep Sea Resources, JAMSTEC
(For press release)
Public Relations Section, Marine Science and Technology Strategy Department, JAMSTEC
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