UN Adopts Treaty for High Seas Conservation to Protect the High Seas Beyond National Ocean Boundaries
The United Nations (UN) has achieved a significant milestone in global marine conservation efforts by adopting the Treaty for High Seas Conservation, a groundbreaking rulebook to safeguard marine life in international waters.
The Treaty on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty) is an international treaty that aims to protect marine life on the high seas. The treaty was adopted by consensus by the United Nations’ International Seabed Authority (ISA) on July 1, 2022. It came into force after having been ratified by 30 countries.
This historic agreement, adopted on June 19, 2023, marks the first legally binding international accord dedicated to protecting the rich biodiversity of the open ocean beyond national jurisdictions. Encompassing approximately 60% of the Earth’s surface, the high seas are home to diverse marine species and face numerous threats, including overfishing, pollution, and climate change.
Understanding the High Seas and the Need for Protection
The high seas comprise vast expanses of ocean beyond the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of individual countries. The EEZs extend up to 200 nautical miles from a nation’s coast and are considered sovereign – they cannot be exploited under the laws of the country whose waters they are in.
On the other side of the EEZs, in the open ocean of international waters, there is a vastly different situation. International waters offer tremendous ecological value, but they also face significant risks due to human activities. The absence of comprehensive international regulations or enforcement of existing laws has allowed unsustainable practices to threaten marine life, jeopardizing the delicate balance of our oceans. Recognizing the urgency, the international community united to address these challenges and protect the high seas.
The UN’s Landmark Treaty for High Seas Conservation
The recently adopted Treaty for High Seas Conservation represents a groundbreaking achievement in marine conservation. Its primary objective is to safeguard marine life in the high seas by establishing a new international mechanism for conservation and management.
The Treaty for High Seas Conservation sets forth clear guidelines for nations to collaborate in protecting and sustaining the biodiversity of international waters. By fostering cooperation, it aims to curb harmful practices that degrade ecosystems, including destructive fishing methods, seafloor mining, pollution, and the use of harmful chemicals.
The Treaty for High Seas Conservation is particularly important for biodiversity by adhering to the following rules:
- It will establish a new international mechanism for the conservation and management of marine life in the high seas. This mechanism will be responsible for developing and implementing conservation measures for marine life in the high seas. These measures could include setting quotas for fishing, establishing marine protected areas, and regulating the use of harmful chemicals.
- It will require countries to cooperate in the conservation and management of marine life in the high seas. This cooperation will be essential for addressing the challenges posed by overfishing, pollution, and climate change.
- It will prohibit certain activities that can harm marine life, such as bottom trawling and the use of harmful chemicals. These activities are a major threat to marine life in the high seas, and their prohibition will help to protect these vulnerable ecosystems.
- It will establish a scientific research fund to support research on marine life in the high seas. This research will be essential for developing effective conservation measures and for understanding the impacts of human activities on marine life.
The treaty is not a silver bullet for biodiversity loss but it is a significant step in the right direction. If it is implemented effectively, it could make a real difference in protecting marine life in the high seas.
Path to Implementation and Expected Impact
While the Treaty for High Seas Conservation is undoubtedly a landmark achievement, its effectiveness relies on widespread ratification, implementation and enforcement.
The Treaty for High Seas Conservation will be enforced through national and international mechanisms.
- National enforcement: Countries that ratify the treaty will be responsible for enforcing its provisions within their own waters. This could involve, for example, monitoring fishing activity, inspecting ships, and prosecuting violators.
- International enforcement: The treaty will establish a new international mechanism for conserving and managing marine life in the high seas. This mechanism will be responsible for developing and implementing conservation measures and monitoring and enforcing compliance with the treaty.
The Treaty for High Seas Conservation also includes provisions for cooperation between countries and exchanging information. This cooperation will be essential for ensuring that the treaty is effectively enforced.
- States Parties shall adopt laws and regulations to implement the provisions of the Treaty.
- States Parties shall take measures to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Treaty by vessels flying their flag.
- States Parties may cooperate with each other to enforce the provisions of the Treaty.
- The International Seabed Authority (ISA) shall establish a Compliance Committee to monitor and promote compliance with the provisions of the Treaty.
- The ISA may establish a Scientific Advisory Body to advise the Compliance Committee.
Enforcement of the Treaty for High Seas Conservation will be a challenging task, but it is essential for protecting marine life in the high seas. The treaty includes a number of strong enforcement mechanisms, and it is important that countries that ratify the treaty take all necessary steps to enforce its provisions.
The adoption of the Treaty for High Seas Conservation marks a groundbreaking achievement in global conservation efforts and multilateral negotiations. By setting a precedent for international cooperation and providing a comprehensive framework for conservation and management, the treaty paves the way for a sustainable future for our oceans.
With its ban on destructive practices, emphasis on cooperation, and establishment of a scientific research fund, this historic agreement signifies a critical step forward in preserving the biodiversity and ecological balance of our planet’s vast high seas. It is a testament to humanity’s dedication to safeguarding our natural heritage for generations.