The high seas, large expanses of water that lie outside the exclusive economic zones of a country, make up roughly two-thirds of the world’s oceans and serve as pivotal corridors for highly migratory species. No single country governs them because they exist in international waters, and due to their immense size, enforcement of overfishing and other illegal activities is a persistent problem.
Coming into force in 1994, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) set out to define nations’ rights and responsibilities regarding responsible resource use on the high seas. This international agreement, ratified by more than 160 nations today, was an important step in managing these critical areas. However, many aspects of UNCLOS must be updated to address the current concerns on the high seas.
Currently, government officials, NGOs, academics, and world leaders are convening in New York City at the United Nations headquarters to discuss ways to improve governance on the high seas and ensure our world’s fisheries are sustainable. More importantly, these actors are expected to make recommendations on specific management updates to UNCLOS, including the creation of a network of high seas marine protected areas to protect valuable fisheries, whales, and other marine species.
Marine protected areas provide a host of ecological benefits. Along with providing a buffer against climate change, they allow fish populations to rebound since commercial and recreational fishing is prohibited within their borders. Implementation is critical to ensure healthy fish populations, resulting in healthier ecosystems, food security, and economic opportunities for all nations.
Oceans 5, an international funder’s collaborative dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and constraining overfishing, has undertaken numerous projects to implement marine protected areas throughout the world. In the past year alone, they have helped designate over 1.5 million square kilometers of ocean as marine protected areas, most notably in the Arctic, the eastern Pacific Ocean, and along the high seas. Their support of the Global Ocean Commission led to the creation of a strategic action plan devoted to ocean recovery.
With the health of our oceans under siege from climate change and overfishing, protection of the high seas is paramount. Oceans 5 has emerged as a leader in marine conservation – not only has it set the stage for a potential landmark decision later this month, it also serves as an example of effective collaboration in restoring this valued, and shared, resource.