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Increasing exploration and industrial exploitation of the vast and fragile deep-ocean environment for a wide range of resources (e.g., oil, gas, fisheries, new molecules, and soon, minerals) raises global concerns about potential ecological impacts (1–3). Multiple impacts on deep-sea ecosystems (>200 m below sea level; ∼65% of the Earth's surface is covered by deep ocean) caused by human activities may act synergistically and span extensive areas. Cumulative impacts could eventually cause regime shifts and alter deep-ocean life-support services, such as the biological pump or nutrient recycling (2, 4, 5). Although international law and national legislation largely ignore the deep sea's critical role in the functioning and buffering of planetary systems, there are promising developments in support of deep-sea protection at the United Nations and the International Seabed Authority (ISA). We propose a strategy that builds from existing infrastructures to address research and monitoring needs to inform governments and regulators.
↵* These authors contributed equally to this work.