Conserving the High Seas

Conserving the High Seas

The United Nations (UN) has proposed a new treaty, the Agreement on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, thought to work to protect the conservation and sustainable use of the high seas. Countries met and voted on Sunday, December 24th, 2017 at the UN Oceans Conference to begin to generate this “Paris Agreement for the ocean.” The goal is that within two years there will be a legally binding treaty negotiated and presented under the “Law of the Sea Convention,” an international agreement developed in 1982 that can be comparatively described as a constitution for the oceans.

The high seas cover approximately half of the globe and can not be claimed by one single nation. This means that protecting them requires full global cooperation. An estimated 90 percent of the Earth’s oceans species is currently undiscovered and there is little idea of how the loss of or detrimental treatment of these species might affect our oceans, land, and air.

We do know that the treaty proposes strong ecological standpoints and innovative protective systems. Since the high seas are 200 miles outside of known coastlines, there are only about 10 countries that can actively afford to travel so far from their base such as Spain and Japan. The ten countries alone make up for 71% of fishing catch from these areas. With the treaty closing commercial fishing entirely, less bunker fuel would be burned and released in the high seas. The area would then produce more fish that will push to surrounding waters, increasing coastal catch by 18%. This would help provide developing nations with the accessibility to fishing equality and to conduct marine research.


In addition to fishing catch, there is a heavy carbon footprint connection among species in the high seas. Plankton and related species store CO2 (carbon dioxide) for a later convenient use. More than half of carbon emissions from burned fossil fuels is absorbed by the oceans species and floors. Closing commercial fishing in unclaimed ocean would allow for species and ocean floors to catch up, therefore increasing the carbon emissions being absorbed and protecting our planet from further effects of climate change.

We do already have ocean treaties through the United Nations, but this is arguably the most groundbreaking one yet. In the past, preserving the biodiversity of all ocean species has not been a priority. This would be the first treaty to have full legal control of the conservation of biodiversity in our oceans.

The light blue areas are unclaimed ocean territory.

Since more than 140 nations co-sponsored the treaty, members of the High Seas Alliance are not exempt from participating, increasing the likelihood of console. Among the supporting nations are Iceland, Norway, Japan, and South Korea; but the countries inhabiting the most fish exports with the highest ranks of resources, the United States, Russia, and China have not expressed alliance quite yet.

The United Nations may run into some challenges including the attempt to protect the high seas without subverting existing pacts such as the International Whaling Commission or the International Seabed Authority. Although finalization of the treaty will be difficult, most nations agree that practices such as trafficking, over fishing, extinction, and plastic pollution are tormenting the open ocean, giving a hopeful touch to furthering conservation. Even the discussion and presentation of the agreement supports possible research opportunities and recognizable reasons for funding.

You can show interest in becoming a member of High Seas Alliance and converse further with them here. American Geographical Society and Connect2Conserve would love to hear your opinions on this topic. Are you in support of the declared treaty? How do you think it will negatively or positively affect our worlds relationship with the unclaimed oceans? Our relationship in respect with existing pacts?

By Nicole Fee

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