Hope for high seas protection after 30 years of lawlessness

This article originally featured in The Skylark’s newsletter and was written as a condensed news in brief.

Just 200 nautical miles off any coastline, jurisdictions on what you can and can’t do in the ocean technically end. This vast expanse of effectively lawless ocean covers two thirds of the planet and is only loosely managed and protected by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in 1982. However, the treaty is set for a shake up with a specific focus on conservation and sustainability at the heart of the new negotiations.

This is important because only 1% of this space is currently protected, with individual countries taking responsibility for their own waters and territories. Peggy Kalas, director of the High Seas Alliance, explains that “this is the first time that there’s been a treaty process devoted to marine biodiversity in the high seas and the first ocean treaty really to be negotiated in over 30 years.”

Covid-19 has forced the fourth round of negotiations to be postponed, hopefully giving participants time to reflect and focus on what is at stake. The high seas are vital for regulating the climate, providing oxygen, food and also jobs. But it’s all at stake with increasing chemical, plastic, noise and fuel pollution now disturbing, disrupting and destroying this vast and critical ecosystem.

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