What Happens If We Don’t Protect the High Seas?

Date: October 16, 2018

Source: Nature Conservancy
Author: Maria Damanaki

There’s a proverb I’m fond of: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” I thought of this proverb as I followed the recent UN negotiations around a treaty to establish international governance for the high seas.

The high seas—the part of the ocean that lies outside of any national territory—cover almost 50 percent of the planet, but as of now they are subject to few regulations of any kind. The proposed UN treaty aims to establish guidelines “for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.” With three more negotiation sessions to come, the goal is to ratify by the spring of 2020.

When I wrote just over a year ago that “We Need a Paris Agreement for the Ocean,” it was precisely this sort of international governance I was advocating for. These negotiations are an important step in this direction, with proposals for vast new protected areas and changes to the way nations have conducted fishing, mining and bioprospecting in the open ocean. But many of these proposals are already meeting resistance.

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