Our Oceans’ Last Chance: Protect the High Seas

A new United Nations treaty is bringing a once-in-a-generation chance to save our open oceans and all the life that depends on them.

This is a transcript of the video.

International marine celebrities, like blue whales, dolphins, and oceanic white-tipped sharks, thrive in the open ocean that lies outside the boundaries of any country.

It's called the high seas.

It's almost two-thirds of our ocean. It provides 90 percent of the habitat available for oceanic life on earth. But only about one-half of 1 percent of the high seas are fully protected from fishing, mining, and other human pressures.

That's just not working.

So delegates and ocean advocates from over 100 nations met this past September at the United Nations to start negotiating a treaty that will expand conservation of the high seas. This treaty will be the first legally binding agreement for the high seas in over two decades.

Individual countries control what happens in the ocean within 200 miles of their shorelines. But beyond 200 miles, the high seas are a badly regulated commons. There's a patchwork of organizations managing these waters that don't collaborate. And it makes for big gaps in regulation across huge swaths of the ocean.

Because humans have polluted and depleted our coastal areas, we've had to move our ocean activities farther and farther from shore. This means that the massive high seas, once thought to be immune to harm, are now seriously threatened by overfishing, climate change, plastic and noise pollution, illegal dumping, shipping traffic, habitat loss, and seabed mining.

Three billion people worldwide depend on oceans for their livelihood. But just like the ocean, many humans working on the high seas aren't sufficiently protected. Human trafficking, slave labor, and human rights abuses abound on the multinational, moving landscape of the high seas.

Things are pretty urgent. And this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect the ocean and all life that depends on it, including us.

Marine Protected Areas shelter fragile and vulnerable ocean life from mining, drilling, fishing, and other damaging activity. They also boost abundance and healthier fish population that benefit people who depend on oceans for food and jobs.

But so far, fully safeguarded MPAs have been a near impossibility in international waters, and this needs to be addressed by the treaty. Scientists have also found that Marine Protected Areas are crucial to maintaining resilience in the face of rapid ocean warming and acidification from climate change.

The world's oceans absorb one-quarter of the excess carbon dioxide that humans produce and more than 90% of the excess heat from climate change. But we barely protect any of the ocean on paper—and less in practice.

If you care about your fellow earthlings or about stopping climate change, it's impossible to overstate the role oceans play in this fight. We just can't provide a climate-resilient ocean to the next generation nor resilient ocean economies without actively protecting the high seas.

Half the planet is at stake in this fight. But that also means that we have the chance to help shape the future of that half of the planet together.

Let's do it.

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