United Nations signs historic deal to protect the oceans

After two decades of discussion and negotiation, the 193 member states of the United Nations have finally agreed on a legal framework to protect the ocean. 

According to The Guardian, the treaty will enable the creation of enormous marine protected areas (MPAs) in those parts of the ocean that are outside national boundaries. This will help reduce the loss of wildlife, reverse acidification and share out the genetic resources found in the world’s oceans. 

Oceans are critical to the survival of all life on the planet. They produce half the oxygen we breathe and soak up vast quantities of carbon dioxide. In particular, the ‘high seas’ – those areas outside of national boundaries that comprise nearly two-thirds of the ocean’s area – are critical to the healthy functioning of the whole marine system and are vital for many species of whales, sharks, sea turtles and fish, as well as enabling billions of dollars annually in economic activity. But, until now, the high seas were governed by fragmented and poorly-enforced rules that have allowed increasing acidification of the waters and turned a blind eye to exploitation such as over-fishing and the dumping of pollutants, including millions of tonnes of plastic waste. This treaty will end this situation by providing a global, legally binding agreement that will provide comprehensive ocean governance. 

The treaty will ensure the viability of the ‘30×30’ pledge made at COP15 in Montreal last year as part of the Global Biodiversity Framework that aims to reverse biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights by protecting a third of the planet for nature by 2030.  

There are many details yet to be hashed out, but it is likely the MPAs will have restrictions, or even complete bans, on fishing in order to slow and reverse the losses of marine species caused by years of unregulated overfishing. The treaty also aims to protect ocean ecosystems against the negative effects of deep sea mining. According to the BBC, environmental groups have serious concerns about the impacts of mining which include noise pollution and disruption to food sources and breeding grounds. Countries have pledged to put more money into ocean conservation, and there has been agreement to a more equitable sharing of marine genetic resources, such as materials from plants and animals, which can have economic benefits when used as food or pharmaceuticals. 

Reaching this point took years of negotiations, with countries wrangling over issues such as how to ensure a fair and equitable sharing of benefits between developed and developing countries, and what models to use for the environmental impact studies of planned activities in the protected areas.     

But eventually all 193 member countries were happy with the wording of the treaty.  “The ship has reached the shore,” said the emotional conference chair Rena Lee to the delight of delegates when final agreement was reached in New York on 4 March. 

Take 3 was also delighted to hear this news. “This treaty couldn’t come a moment too soon”, said Jacquie Riddell, Take 3’s CEO.  “Well-protected and biodiverse oceans are essential for the health of the planet, and for our health and well-being too. We can’t safeguard the oceans without multilateral commitments from all countries so I’m really optimistic that new treaty to protect the high seas, along with the UN Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution that was endorsed last year, will put us on the right path to protect and restore the oceans for future generations.”