‘Deep-Sea Mining: An Emerging Marine Industry – Challenges and Responses’ was the topic of the recent 3rd FIGS Events Lecture. Delivered to an invited audience from different fields of engineering, science, regulation, law and technology at Prince Philip House, London, Oceanographer, Attorney-at-Law and Visiting Colleague at the University of Hawai’i, Dr Philomène Verlaan JD PhD FIMarEST, entranced and educated a full house as she described the multi-faceted political, economic, technological, scientific, environmental, social, industrial and legal aspects that must be addressed to achieve commercially viable results.

As if these challenges were not enough, she told her audience that they are either governed by, or must take into account, the burgeoning regulatory regime promulgated by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), with consequent effects on operating conditions.

“It really was a tour de force, covering an immense amount of ground, and eliciting some fascinating questions,” explains FIGS Events’ Director, Fiona Morris. “Dr Verlaan described the three principal deep-sea metal-bearing hard mineral deposits that are currently of the most immediate interest to the deep-sea mining industry – ferro-manganese (Fe-Mn) nodules, cobalt (Co)-rich Fe-Mn crusts, and polymetallic sulphides, and their distinctive biogeophysical marine environments (abyssal sediments, seamount flanks and hydrothermal vents, respectively).

“She also provided our highly receptive audience with an overview of their resource interest, extraction technologies, technical and environmental issues, international regulatory regime, and innovative responses to these myriad challenges. And then she went on to explain that the experience of the deep sea-mining industry could inform the responsible development of other new deep sea industries, such as those related to marine genetic resources.

“Within the presentation and the lively question and answer session that followed, Philomène Verlaan conveyed a flavour of the nature, variety, complexity and fascination of the challenges facing this bold new marine activity; and in the answer to the final question stressed the importance of young people becoming involved in the challenges offered by the oceans, and with STEM subjects both at school and at university.

“Questions continued throughout the networking session that followed. Indeed, we were hard pressed to clear the room at the end of the evening, as Philomène answered question after question! It was a truly stimulating evening, and is perhaps best summed up by this, and many similar messages received from our guests: ‘Thanks for a most enjoyable evening – as always a brilliant lecturer and very good company’.”

A video of the lecture and a copy of the technical paper is now available on line at www.figsevents.co.uk.

A passion for promoting innovation
This third FIGS Events’ Lecture followed in the footsteps of the 2013 inaugural lecture on ‘Reflections on the causes of engineering failure and poor performance’ by Professor John Carlton; and Professor Tong Sun’s 2014 lecture ‘Optical fibre sensors: a new monitoring approach for industry’.
FIGS Events Limited is an event management company which focuses on the organisation of technical events for professional institutions, research and development organisations and societies. As Director, Fiona Morris explains “Our passion is the determination to provide a strong platform for like-minded professionals to meet, discuss and promote innovation in their field. This passion has been the catalyst for the FIGS Events Lecture series.

“Each event in the series has at its heart innovation, technology, science and human interface with technology, and at them we encourage our guests to discuss and debate the topic in an informal atmosphere.

“That informality is vital, for we want the events to be highly enjoyable and believe that the best discussions can arise out of an informal, enjoyable gathering in conducive surroundings and with plenty of pre- and post-lecture networking time. We particularly want people from different disciplines to appreciate each other’s perspective. Indeed, it delights us when people tell us how much they appreciate being out of their own professional ‘comfort zone’; being on a permanent learning curve is something that engineers and scientists thrive on!”

Dr Verlaan: A background
Dr Philomène Verlaan is an oceanographer (Ph.D., Imperial College London) and an attorney-at-law (J.D., Florida State University; Member of the Florida Bar). As a scientist, her research addresses the formation, biogeochemistry and ecology of deep-sea ferro-manganese nodules and crusts; she has participated in (so far) 22 oceanographic research cruises and nine research submersible dives, and is a Visiting Colleague at the Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai’i.

As a law of the sea specialist, she focuses on marine mining and marine scientific research in supporting the environmentally and commercially responsible use of marine resources under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, humankind’s “Constitution for the Oceans”, as so felicitously described by Ambassador Koh.

She has worked on the interface between marine science and marine law to assist international intergovernmental organizations (e.g., United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Seabed Authority, Office of the London Convention and Protocol, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) and international non-governmental organizations (e.g., Law of the Sea Institute, Rockefeller Foundation, Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea), including participation in related multi-lateral treaty development and implementation.
The author of over 50 refereed marine publications, she has made over 40 invited presentations on marine topics in international fora, is a member of international learned marine professional societies (International Marine Minerals Society, Marine Technology Society, Oceanography Society, Oceans Group of the World Commission on Environmental Law; she is a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology), a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Rhodes Academy for Oceans Law and Policy, and serves as editorial associate for the journal Marine Georesources and Geotechnology and the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law.