Increases in the demand and price for industrial metals, combined with advances in technological capabilities have now made deep-sea mining more feasible and economically viable. In order to balance economic interests with the conservation of abyssal plain ecosystems, it is becoming increasingly important to develop a systematic approach to spatial management and zoning of the deep sea. Here, we describe an expert-driven systematic conservation planning process applied to inform science-based recommendations to the International Seabed Authority for a system of deep-sea marine protected areas (MPAs) to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem function in an abyssal Pacific region targeted for nodule mining (e.g. the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone, CCZ). Our use of geospatial analysis and expert opinion in forming the recommendations allowed us to stratify the proposed network by biophysical gradients, maximize the number of biologically unique seamounts within each subregion, and minimize socioeconomic impacts. The resulting proposal for an MPA network (nine replicate 400 × 400 km MPAs) covers 24% (1 440 000 km(2)) of the total CCZ planning region and serves as example of swift and pre-emptive conservation planning across an unprecedented area in the deep sea. As pressure from resource extraction increases in the future, the scientific guiding principles outlined in this research can serve as a basis for collaborative international approaches to ocean management.
Keywords: abyssal plains; deep sea; geographic information system; marine protected area network; systematic conservation planning.