By Lucia McQuillan – Puccetti
After having discussed this issue for 20 years, in New York on the 4th of March, the first treaty to preserve the world’s oceans and marine biodiversity beyond national borders – known as the high seas – was founded by the UN (United Nations). The high seas take up almost half of the earth’s surface, and have been victims of exploitation due to the pollution of chemicals, underwater mining, overfishing and Climate Change. According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) currently only 1.2 percent of high seas are protected, with only 0.8 percent being considered as “highly protected”; but why are they so important?
The high seas provide habitats for a variety of marine species and ecosystems, and are essential for supporting global fisheries and battling against Climate Change. They absorb great amounts of heat (due to the rising sea temperatures) and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere produced by humans. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), 10 percent of marine species are regarded as being at risk of extinction, with many including sea turtles and whales. This is mostly due to the lack of consolidated international laws protecting these areas.
The main purpose of the High Seas Treaty is to protect the once exploited international waters, thereby also helping to secure the global plan to protect 30 percent of the earth’s oceans and land by 2030 (as agreed at the 2022 UN biodiversity conference). This treaty still allows certain activity to take place in the high seas, provided that it does not harm marine wildlife. This may involve reducing deep-sea mining, certain shipping routes and fishing, due to the possibility of causing damage to breeding grounds. This treaty will also ensure that EIA (Environmental Impact Assessments) will be taken for activities such as mining, and will establish fair sharing of marine genetic resources (biological material from marine fauna and flora that are often used to advance science and understanding of medicine). UN Secretary General António Guterres said “the treaty is crucial for addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution”.