April 11, 2023
Featured image: Sargassum floating in the Sargasso Sea, located in the Northern Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, high seas (c) Philippe-Rouja
(UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, NEW YORK) –
After two decades of ongoing discussion, United Nations delegates from 193 nations reached a historic agreement on March 4th, 2023 to protect marine biodiversity and address climate change in international waters.
António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, says, “This action is a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health, now and for generations to come.”
David Freestone, Executive Secretary of the Sargasso Sea Commission and Hope Spot Champion of the Sargasso Sea Hope Spot says, “We are delighted to see at last the finalization of the new UN High Seas Treaty. The development and negotiation of this have taken almost two decades. The governance and conservation of biodiversity in ABNJ has long been an “unfinished agenda” of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and the new Treaty now addresses this important issue – providing for the first time an international mechanism for the designation of marine protected areas within the high seas.” Freestone served on the IUCN delegation throughout this process.
The “high seas” refers to approximately 2/3rds of the world’s oceans that are not within any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), leaving such waters vulnerable to damaging fishing and other extractive practices.
However, the work has just begun. What follows this treaty is just as important as the agreement itself – the procedure for creating high seas marine protected areas and a model for environmental impact studies must be created and enforced.