24 Oct 2019

The High Seas Treaty: taking marine conservation beyond borders

How do we agree on conservation laws in areas outside national jurisdiction? Carolina Hazin, our Global Marine Policy Coordinator, recently spoke up for marine life at a global meeting that will decide the future of conservation in international waters. Here, she recalls the experience, and explains what needs to happen next.

Black-browed Albatrosses out at sea © Unsplash
Black-browed Albatrosses out at sea © Unsplash
By Jessica Law

What are the high seas?

High seas are the open ocean waters, outside national jurisdiction. Currently, around 60% of the world’s oceans are not governed by any one country. Instead, they are run by a complex structure where different business sectors and governments regulate activities such as fishing, shipping, mining and cable laying, often without coordination.


Tell us about the High Seas Treaty…

In August, world governments met in New York to negotiate the first legal draft of a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine life on the high seas. Set under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, this treaty will set the framework for Marine Protected Areas, environmental impact assessments, and many other measures. We expect the treaty to be adopted in 2020, but this and next year is critical for countries to come to an agreed position.


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Where does BirdLife’s science come in to all this?

Migratory seabirds face threats across their entire range (bycatch in fisheries, pollution, etc), so protective measures need to be in place throughout. With our seabird tracking data, BirdLife can provide good quality information on seabirds’ use of the ocean’s space. Additionally, this data can be overlaid with planned or existing human activity, allowing us to detect areas of risk and inform policy decisions. 


Why is this important for conservation?

There is currently a governance gap in the high seas: fisheries set quotas for fishing, the International Seabed Authority regulates on mining. But there’s no single global body for protecting biodiversity and for coordinating the many regional and sectoral global bodies. We need to close this gap and enhance international cooperation. It is also important that the business sector effectively adopts sustainable production models. 


What are your hopes for future meetings?

We hope that there’s more convergence between countries and stronger responsibility. The time is now. Deterioration of ocean health is already being felt, including in food security. This was the first time countries have negotiated over the legal text itself. Some countries seem to prefer a weak framework, but we need to ensure there are robust and clear standards for protecting biodiversity.


Find out more about our Marine Programme