Culturing the Deep Sea

Design: Fiona Middleton

Part campaign and part program, Culturing the Deep Sea is a research project by TBA21–Academy, designed to respond to the accelerating developments around deep sea mining by opening up channels between art, science and law to welcome a burgeoning  number of narratives. The aim of the project is to facilitate a shift in cultural relations with the seabed and the Oceanic commons. 

How do we see and feel the deep sea? Art can be the connective tissue for data, pieces of legislation, dreams, living creatures, forecasts, standards, storytelling and jargon. 

Continuing TBA21–Academy’s commitment to the deep sea, the project promotes diverse narratives through decolonial counter-strategies, employing the formats of collective research, educational programs, exhibitions and policy interventions. 

By cultivating a holding space through participatory and collaborative processes, Culturing the Deep Sea archives thinking from within and beyond the legal–scientific clusters currently shaping the deep-sea mining landscape.
History in the making
The mineral deposits present in international waters (‘the Area’) are the common heritage of (hu)mankind.[1] This means that their extraction must benefit humanity as a whole, and benefits from mining must be shared ‘equitably’ through a special mechanism.[2] However, extractive activities in the deep sea will hurt the ecosystems of our Oceans. 

In recent years, the Pacific island Republic of Nauru began to focus on deep sea mining in concert with multinational companies in this venture – companies that appear to be interested in ‘green-washing’ their commercial activities as they advocate for minerals from the deep seabed to be used in batteries and renewable energy technologies instead of fossil fuels or land-sourced minerals. The Republic of Nauru and its sponsoring multinational company have triggered the ‘2-year rule’ found in UNCLOS in June 2021, proclaiming their intention to mine their allotted seabed area of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (between Hawaii and Mexico). With this rule, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the UN-mandated body responsible for ‘organising and controlling activities in the Area’[4] has merely 2 years to formalise the rules and requirements for mining, in the form of a Mining Code. Without sufficient knowledge or understanding of the ecosystems under threat from mining activities, and without channels for more of (hu)mankind to express their preferences and sentiments for the deep sea, the Mining Code that emerges could be largely shaped by industrial, economic and political impulses keen to exploit the seabed’s resources. This extractive complex arguably cares little for the damage caused to the marine environment, coastal communities and future generations.

Culturing the Deep Sea is centred around the ongoing negotiations at the ISA to finalise the Mining Code. The diversity of deep sea environments and habitats involved is as rich as the mix of stakeholders, interests, and perspectives seeking to influence the scenario. However, no cross-sectional conversations or convenings that represent this diversity are taking place transparently and in public view. Moreover, there are few opportunities for plans of action that overlap disciplines – particularly that integrate Indigenous and traditional knowledge systems into frameworks for ocean management and governance at the ISA. 

The pluralism founded by Oceanic cosmogonies is maintained by incessant interactions between human, deified and non-human entities. Minerals, birds, sharks, plants, west or northeast wind, fine rain, in turn, are messengers, personify invisible ancestors, communicate with the world of the living… Thus, in oceanian societies where the world is conceived as a vast kinship network, with continual interactions between minerals, plants and animals, the relationship is the basis of such societies.[5]
Culturing the Deep Sea realises the interaction between knowledge clusters, people, and non-human entities is an important indicator and contribution for deep sea research and critical ocean literacy. With artistic interventions, imaginative responses to the deep-sea mining landscape can be triggered.
Research approach
Map narratives and debates surrounding the in-progress Mining Code, particularly considering non-western, decolonial and Indigenous knowledge clusters.

Open up collaborative ‘revision’ approach to gathering and recording knowledge.

Experiment with participatory, community-based performative approaches to lawmaking from an arts and cultural context.
Activities and formats
Research & Publication of an experimental written series that feels for the boundaries of scientific–legal knowledge clusters as they relate to deep sea mining by inviting diverse voices and questioning the possibility of deep-sea culture as a process and a common legacy; conceived as a handbook for those directly affected by mining, and those working or interested in the deep-sea or cultural spheres.

Deep Sea Mining Curriculum developed in partnership with Indigenous communities and partnering universities for the academic year of 2023/2024 as part of OCEAN / UNI, an art–law–science learning initiative – open to the general public – that invites thinking with the Ocean as a way to move towards more amphibious formulations, beyond land–sea binaries.

Exhibition & Convenings as a curatorial collective, hosting convenings of working groups and presenting the results of a research cluster.

Policy Intervention to increase the diversity of stakeholders present at the International Seabed Authority and policy summits around deep-sea research, enhancing the profile of the deep sea in ocean literacy frameworks.
Various venues, online on
Mekhala Dave is the Ocean Law and Policy Researcher at the TBA21–Academy. In concert with the Academy’s mission to catalyse action and care for the Ocean, she is mapping deep-sea mining developments from a nuanced and transdisciplinary framework at the intersection of art, law, and science. She is also a doctoral researcher at the University of Applied Arts Vienna for legal rights representation from visual cues of political and activist art on the issues of ecology, migration, and gender.

Fiona Middleton takes a transdisciplinary approach to research critical ocean literacy by blending forms of knowledge to experiment with constructions and expressions of ocean and earth systems. She is a PhD student in the University of Southampton's Intelligent Oceans programme (UK) and manages TBA21–Academy's ocean comm/uni/ty platform, where she also researches deep-sea mining for the Culturing the Deep Sea project. Her academic background is in geology and marine science, and her interests include the deep seabed, limestone and the Law of the Sea.

Wish to know more and collaborate with us? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Get in touch with us directly via direct message on the ocean comm/uni/ty.
Markus Reymann, Director, TBA21

February 2022
Culturing the Deep Sea: An Introduction Story release

February 25, 2022
Film and Oceans: Emma Critchley
Convening, Wolfson College, University of Oxford 

March 2022
Culturing the Deep Sea - 2 - Game Changers: Consortia and Collectives Story release

June 2022
Culturing the Deep Sea - 3 - Where to draw the (base)line?​ Story release

June 10, 2022 
Convening, Zürich 
Webinar registration

July 2022
27th session of the International Seabed Authority Council (part 2)
Kingston, Jamaica
March 2023
28th session of the International Seabed Authority Council (part 1)
Kingston, Jamaica

April 2023
April 29
Meet the Deep Sea: Should we mine the seabed? 
Film Screening, Panel Discussion and Creative Workshop
Quay Arts and online

May 2023
May 13
Meet the Deep Sea: Should we mine the seabed? 
Film Screening, Panel Discussion and Creative Workshop
John Hansard Gallery and online

July 2023
28th session of the International Seabed Authority Council (part 2)
Kingston, Jamaica
A policy brief submitted by Mekhala Dave can be found here.

October–December, 2023
OCEAN / UNI Fall Semester
Culturing the Deep Sea: Towards a common heritage for allkind​
Online on
Registration form
[1] UNCLOS art. 136
[2] UNCLOS art. 140
[3] 1(15) of the 1994 Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the UNCLOS
[4] UNCLOS art. 157
[5] Virginie Tilot et al., ‘Traditional Dimensions of Seabed Resource Management in the Context of Deep Sea Mining in the Pacific: Learning From the Socio-Ecological Interconnectivity Between Island Communities and the Ocean Realm’, Frontiers in Marine Science, Vol. 8, 2021