Conserve the High Seas

NRDC is working with governments at the United Nations to create a new treaty focused on conservation of the high seas—the area outside of any one country’s jurisdiction but which covers nearly two-thirds of the world’s ocean and almost half the entire planet. Developing this treaty represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to, for the first time, protect life in the high seas.

Lying beyond the authority of any one country, the high seas hold perhaps the largest reserve of undisturbed biodiversity on earth, and new species are discovered with practically every voyage to the deep ocean. Because they lack clear rules and effective enforcement, the high seas face growing threats from overfishing, deep seabed mining, trash, and noise and chemical pollution. Industrial fishing fleets have plundered marine life. Gyres of plastic debris stretch for thousands of miles. And problems like ocean acidification and warming continue to intensify.

Aleksandr Zaitcev/iStock

If the international community agrees to a set of strong conservation measures backed by robust enforcement, it will big a huge step forward for the planet and all life on earth that relies on a healthy ocean.

NRDC has helped build momentum for a high seas treaty since 2006, highlighting the need for better management of human activity, and working with partners across the globe to build consensus around key aspects of the agreement. In 2015, governments at the United Nations agreed to develop a new, legally binding framework for conserving marine biological diversity on the high seas.

After two years of discussions within a treaty Preparatory Committee, governments in July 2017 unanimously agreed that they had reached consensus on enough basic treaty elements—like the need for marine protected areas in the high seas and for activities to be vetted before being allowed to go forward—that they were ready to convene more formal diplomatic consultations. On recommendation from that Preparatory Committee, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to formally begin the negotiations in December 2017.

An intergovernmental conference, scheduled to take place between 2018 and 2020, is where governments will negotiate the treaty text itself. NRDC will continue to help shape the process and ensure that the negotiations reflect the latest science and the urgent need for conservation and sustainable oceans management. The treaty negotiations represent a huge opportunity to reverse the tides of degradation facing the ocean. NRDC and our partners are working hard to bring a strong treaty to fruition.

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