The world has a “once in a lifetime” chance to protect the high seas from exploitation, warned scientists and environmentalists, as negotiators meet at the UN headquarters in New York this week to hammer out a new treaty on the oceans.
One scientist described the treaty, which will set out a legal framework to protect biodiversity and govern the high seas, as the most significant ocean protection agreement for four decades.
“It’s extremely important it happens now,” said Prof Alex Rogers, science director of Rev Ocean, an ocean research NGO. “We’ve continued to see industrialisation of areas beyond national boundaries, including distant-water fishing and potentially deep-sea mining.”
A vast portion of the ocean, 64% by surface area, lies outwith the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that cover approximately 200 nautical miles from the shorelines of individual states. Referred to as the high seas, they host a wide array of ecosystems and species, many insufficiently studied and recorded. The increasing reach of shipping vessels, seabed mining and new activities such as “bioprospecting” of marine species have put the high seas and its biodiversity at increasing risk of exploitation.