An agreement 20 years in the making has been signed to protect the high seas, helping the United Nations to reach its goal of protecting 30% of the planet’s oceans by 2030 by regulating fishing, shipping, and deep-sea mining in international waters.
“What happens on the high seas will no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” explains Jessica Battle, senior global ocean governance and policy expert for the World Wildlife Fund. “The High Seas Treaty will allow for the kind of oversight and integration we need if we want the ocean to keep providing the social, economic and environmental benefits humanity currently enjoys.”
Traditionally, individual nations are legally entitled to control water and sea floor within 200 nautical miles of their shores with international waters – accounting for two-thirds of Earth’s oceans – being under no government jurisdiction. Thanks to the “high sea treaty,” a growing number of marine protected areas will be established in international waters since only 1.2% of those waters are currently protected. It took two decades of preliminary discussion, two weeks of negotiations, and an almost 4-hour final session to come to a deal. The ocean is home to 94% of the planet’s wildlife – with 230,000 species recorded so far, but according to estimations, there could be more than two million – and plays a crucial role in preserving life. Oceans produce 50% of our oxygen, absorb 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions, and take in 90% of the world’s excess heat. Once implemented, the treaty will help species that are vulnerable to overfishing and pollution, thus giving them a chance to replenish their populations.