The High Seas Treaty will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas.
The oceans play an important role in our environment. They produce half the oxygen we breathe, represent 95% of the planet’s biosphere and are the world’s largest carbon sink. Yet oceans and the biodiversity they support are susceptible to exploitation due to fragmented and loosely enforced rules. The rise in global trade means more ships in the water causing more animals to be hit by boats. Deep sea mining, where minerals are taken from a sea bed 200m or more below the surface, degrades the ocean’s ecosystems and seafloor and reduces their ability to absorb carbon. Climate change and the associated rise in temperatures also make the oceans less hospitable for many species.
The last international agreement to protect the ocean was signed in 1982 and established an area called the high seas. This area is international waters where all countries have a right to fish, ship, and do research. The downside is that only 1.2% of these waters are protected, which puts marine life outside these high seas at risk from climate change, overfishing and shipping traffic.
After almost two decades of discussion, United Nations member states have made a historic agreement. More than 190 countries have agreed on a legal framework called the High Seas Treaty to protect international waters. The treaty comes after the pledge made at the UN biodiversity conference to protect a third of land and sea by 2030 as a refuge for the planet’s remaining wild plants and animals.
The High Seas Treaty will cover almost two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national boundaries. It will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas. Marine genetic resources are biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can benefit society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food. There will be restrictions on how much fishing can take place, where the shipping routes will be allowed to go, and what sort of exploration activities, such as deep-sea mining, will be allowed. The High Seas Treaty will also help in the fight against climate change, as studies have shown that efforts to protect more of the world’s waters would not only support marine diversity but would also boost the amount of carbon absorbed by the ocean.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, environmental groups say that the High Seas Treaty will help reverse biodiversity loss and ensure sustainable development. It also allows the UN to reach its 30X30 goal more efficiently. Once the treaty takes legal effect, nations can begin proposing the establishment of new marine protected areas. The High Seas Treaty means we are one step closer to protecting the environment and ensuring a more sustainable future.