Nations agree on deal to protect ocean life

high seas

High Seas Alliance celebrates UN agreement on treaty to protect marine biodiversity

More than 190 countries gathered at the United Nations in New York reached an agreement on a unified treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), an alliance made up of 40+ NGOs plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has been campaigning for this agreement for two decades, hoping to establish protected marine areas in the high seas that will preserve marine biodiversity and deliver a healthy ocean.

“The High Seas Treaty opens the path for humankind to finally provide protection to marine life across vast swathes of the ocean. Its adoption will close a significant gap in international law and offer a framework for governments to work together to protect global ocean heath, climate resilience, and the socioeconomic wellbeing and food security of billions of people. We stand ready to support its implementation,” says IUCN Director General, Dr Bruno Oberle.

Protecting the high seas

This new agreement comes as a significant step towards the protection and better management of marine biodiversity in the high seas, which is the area of ocean that lies beyond countries’ national waters. Currently, just over 1% of the high seas is protected. The new Treaty will provide a pathway to establish marine protected areas in these waters and will be a key tool in achieving the recently agreed Kunming-Montreal target of at least 30% protection of the world’s ocean by 2030. This minimum level of protection scientists warn is necessary to ensure a healthy ocean.

Marine life

Each year, a multitude of marine species, ranging from dolphins and whales to sea turtles and fish, embark on lengthy migrations that often cross national borders and the vast expanse of the open ocean. Preserving these creatures, as well as the communities that depend on fishing and tourism tied to marine life, has posed a persistent challenge for international governing bodies.

Treaty timeline

The agreement comes after a long and challenging negotiation process, with equity issues. However, governments were able to agree on equitable sharing of benefits from the deep sea and high seas.

The agreement of this unified treaty helps the 30×30 target – protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Protecting nature and people

Laura Meller, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic, celebrated the agreement as a sign that, in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics: “We praise countries for seeking compromises, putting aside differences and delivering a Treaty that will let us protect the oceans, build our resilience to climate change and safeguard the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.”

Matthew Collis, Deputy Vice President for Policy at IFAW, called the agreement “a wonderful way to celebrate World Wildlife Day for ocean animals and their High Seas homes.”

Minna Epps, Director Global Marine and Polar Programme at IUCN, emphasized that “The High Seas Treaty opens the path for humankind to finally provide protection to marine life across our one ocean.”


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