April 13, 2024

High Seas Treaty paves the way for ocean protection

Only 1% of the high seas are protected – a far cry from the global target of safeguarding 30% of our oceans and seas by 2030. One year after the conclusion of the United Nations High Seas Agreement, we are making progress towards protecting life oceanic expansion of high seas industries?

National borders at sea are invisible, but they can be a matter of life and death for the marine animals that swim across them.

In February and March, scientists on a Greenpeace ship conducted a six-week study around the Galapagos Marine Reserve. They found that biodiversity in these vast protected areas is thriving, but safety is a concern in nearby international waters.

East of the Galápagos archipelago, migratory species have to cross an area open to industrial fishing, which is not regulated by any national law.

In this region, as in others around the world, the high seas face a growing wave of human activity.

Stuart Banks, Senior Maritime Researcher and Principal Investigator of the Charles Darwin Foundation told Euronews: “With new industry, things like deep-sea mining and unsustainable fishing practices, what we’re particularly worried about is that these areas are particularly susceptible – there’s a danger that without actually having some kind of recognition of this kind of incredible diversity, we may lose it before we even have the opportunity to recognize, appreciate and protect it.”

Nations have historically struggled to designate conservation sites outside their exclusive economic zones. However, activists are hopeful that a new international treaty will change this situation, allowing for the protection of oceanic areas beyond national jurisdictions.

“If we can designate this area as a marine protected area, it will be a great victory. We will close the gap, ensuring that a region once heavily threatened by industrial fishing is safeguarded, allowing species to navigate safely,” explained Ruth. Ramos, a defender Green Peace.

Protecting our oceans

The aim is to remove destructive activities such as heavy fishing and heavy maritime traffic from delicate ecosystems and migratory routes.

“The idea is to find the best solution to accommodate them [marine life]with minimal impact on different sectors and their economic activities”, Alex Hearn, professor of School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, said. He also works as a researcher at Galapagos Science Center.

For a long time, protecting the high seas seemed unrealistic.

International waters cover half of our planet’s surface and are managed by a wide range of organizations. Each focuses on specific regions or activities. However, none of these groups have the authority to guarantee the conservation of ocean biodiversity.

Recent studies suggest that protecting important parts of the high seas could restore ocean health with minimal impact on the fishing industry. However, conservation efforts must consider all offshore activities, including global maritime traffic, that traverse sensitive locations.

Protecting the ocean while keeping our economies interconnected is a challenging task. It took more than 15 years of discussions at the United Nations before delegates reached an agreement. historic agreement to protect marine biodiversity in international waters in March 2023.

O Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions, also known as the “High Seas Treaty”, does not create new protected areas. However, it contains a legal framework for nations to do so.

The treaty was signed by 88 parties, including all 27 EU member states, China and the US.

Rebecca Hubbard, director of High Seas Alliance said the treaty allows for the protection of two-thirds of the world’s oceans and seas for the first time. “We can comprehensively assess potentially harmful impacts on the ocean and its precious resources. And, for the first time, we can ensure that the benefits of and access to these resources are shared equitably and fairly,” she said.

What is the problem?

The treaty will not enter into force until at least 60 states ratify it. But Minna Epps, director of the Ocean Team at International Union for Conservation of Nature told Euronews that signatory countries want to see this treaty implemented: “That desire really exists. So now it’s a question of how can we help countries, how can we help by providing – building capabilities, raising awareness.

“Also, I think there are some question marks on the part of the Global South when thinking about how much implementation will cost, what the burden will be, etc. At the same time, in parallel, we also need to build the institutional mechanism to support it. ,” she added.

O Monaco Blue Initiative is one of the global platforms that allows experts and decision-makers to discuss how they can implement the treaty once it comes into force.

At this year’s forum, Seychelles announced that it was ratifying the treaty, joining Chile and Palau as the only countries to have done so so far. Many coastal or small island nations depend on the health of the high seas to boost their economies and ensure food security.

“The high seas are remote, the open ocean – but they are completely relevant to life in coastal seas, to the health of coral reefs, fish stocks and fishing communities. connections,” said David Obura, president of Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the director of CORDIO East Africa.

“And so fisheries could collapse in coastal seas. If we effectively protect the high seas, we can maintain the resilience and robustness of fisheries resources and therefore also the livelihoods dependent on them,” he concluded.

Many questions remain about the practical implementation of the agreement.

According to Enric SalaNational Geographic explorer-in-residence, achieving consensus among nations with diverse economic interests is a challenge: “It’s much easier to protect anything within a country’s waters because you’re dealing with a government, right?

“The high seas are a bit like the Wild West, it’s going to be very challenging because although it’s a UN process, a legal instrument for countries to agree to protect areas, of course, we know that some countries will oppose anything that prevents their fishing – unaccounted for, unregulated – wherever they want,” he said.

A pressing issue is financing. The global biodiversity target aims to protect at least 30 percent of marine life by 2030. Implementing this target will require substantial budgets, with costs and responsibilities shared fairly between state actors and possibly even non-state actors.

“Who should pay to protect nature? Should it be you or me?” asked Robert Calcagno, CEO of the Oceanographic Institute of Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation.

“We need to think about and establish mechanisms that make it possible to finance the protection of the high seas.”

On the other hand, Olivier Wenden, vice-president and CEO of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, considers some costs as an investment.

“It is somewhat counterintuitive, but a protected marine area on the high seas allows fish stocks to recover, thus allowing fishermen to develop their economic activity.

“The ratio is estimated to be ten to one, which means that one dollar invested in the high seas generates ten dollars in return on investment,” he told Euronews.

The European Union, which mediated the High Seas agreement, sees it as a manifestation of its commitment to sustainable development and the equitable sharing of marine resources.

“Now we need to strive for ratification. And we are quite advanced in our community process. I really hope that we do it as quickly as possible… We need 60 signatures. Almost half of them can come from the European Parliament European Union. So, we are committed to doing so as quickly as possible”, said Charlina Vitcheva, Director General of the European Commission DG MARE.

Proponents of the treaty argue that it be implemented by 2025 to protect marine species threatened with extinction.

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