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UN High Seas Treaty: A Historic Step in Protecting Marine Biodiversity Across Large Swathes of Our Oceans

Source: Unsplash - Todd Cravens

After 15 years of negotiations, the United Nations has reached a historic, legally binding agreement to protect vast swathes of the planet’s oceans. The high seas, which cover nearly half the earth’s surface and make up 60% of its oceans, have been under threat from pollution, exploitation, and global warming.

What is in the High Seas Treaty and Why is it Needed?

The treaty, which focuses on marine genetic resources (MGRs) Marine genetic resources (MGRs) refer to the genetic material found in marine organisms, such as microbes, plants, and animals. These resources have the potential to be used in a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and cosmetics. However, because these resources are often found in areas beyond national jurisdiction, there has been a need for a global framework to govern their use and benefit-sharing. The UN high seas treaty will help to establish guidelines for the sharing of benefits derived from MGRs and ensure that their exploitation is done in a sustainable and equitable manner. , area-based management tools, environmental impact assessments, and the transfer of marine technology and building of capacity, will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs). This means that all activities that go on in the high seas will be subject to environmental impact assessments, with member states held accountable for their actions. The treaty places 30% of the world’s land and sea under protection by the end of 2030, a target known as “30 by 30”.

Economic Interests a Major Sticking Point

Economic interests were a major sticking point throughout the negotiations, with developing countries calling for a greater share of the spoils from the “blue economy”, including the transfer of technology. An agreement to share the benefits of “marine genetic resources” used in industries like biotechnology also remained an area of contention until the end.

The Importance of Oceans for Our Planet and Humanity

The oceans are crucial for the health of our planet and all its inhabitants, including humanity. Ocean ecosystems produce nearly half of the earth’s oxygen and absorb much of its carbon dioxide, helping to regulate our climate.

They also provide a source of food and livelihoods for millions of people around the world, particularly those in developing countries. Additionally, the oceans play a critical role in global trade, transportation, and recreation.

Source: Unsplash -m Sebastian Pena Lambarri

A Significant Step Towards Protecting Our Oceans and Combating Climate Change

The high seas treaty is a significant step towards protecting our oceans and combating climate change. It is hoped that the obligation on developed states to share knowledge and technologies, and to build capacity, will result in developing nations participating more in the conservation of the high seas. This could mean restrictions on how much fishing can take place and on activities such as deep seabed mining and deep sea carbon capture and storage.

Did you know that whales play a vital role in maintaining the health of our oceans and our planet as a whole? In this article, we explain how protecting whales could be our best defense against climate change.

Make an Impact


Here’s how you can be proactive in helping to save animals who have as much right to live on this planet as we do.

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