UN member states have forged a landmark deal to guard ocean life, charting a path to create new protected areas in international waters.
“This action is a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health, now and for generations to come,” UN secretary-general António Guterres said in a statement.
Following years of stalled negotiations, more than 190 countries have approved the UN High Seas Treaty, which aims to protect marine life from shipping, overfishing, pollution, and deep-sea mining. The treaty establishes a framework for creating new protected areas and includes provisions on transferring technology, sharing scientific findings, and coordinating the study of environmental threats.
“We only really have two major global commons — the atmosphere and the oceans,” Georgetown University marine biologist Rebecca Helm told the Associated Press. While the oceans tend to garner less attention, “protecting this half of earth’s surface is absolutely critical to the health of our planet.”
The pact will support a goal, laid out at the UN biodiversity conference in December, to protect 30 percent of land and sea. Roughly two-thirds of ocean waters fall outside national borders, and just 1.2 percent of these areas are protected.
“The High Seas Treaty opens the path for humankind to finally provide protection to marine life across vast swathes of the ocean,” biologist Bruno Oberle, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in a statement.
The treaty will enter into force after it is formally adopted at a future UN session and ratified by at least 60 countries, a process that could take years. Oberle said the treaty’s adoption “will close a significant gap in international law.”