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UN adopts world’s first treaty to protect the high seas

UN adopts world’s first treaty to protect the high seas

June 2023

After almost 20 years of talks and intense negotiations, the United Nations has formally adopted a landmark treaty to protect the global ocean. The ‘high seas’ treaty will ensure the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas of the ocean beyond national borders.

The high seas, or international waters, are the vast areas of open ocean that lie more than 200 nautical miles from the shore of any country. They account for almost two-thirds of the global ocean and cover nearly half of the earth’s surface. Far beyond the horizon for most of us, the high seas are one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet. They provide an important habitat for migratory species such as whales, sea turtles and sharks, and hide remarkable ecosystems beneath their depths, such as underwater mountain ranges and deep-water coral fields.

These wild waters are shared by everyone but belong to no one. Currently, all countries have the right to fish, perform research and sail vessels in the open ocean, and a patchwork of weak laws and poor governance has left them vulnerable to human exploitation, overfishing and pollution.

The new treaty will change this by setting out a legal framework and clear process for establishing marine protected areas in the high seas. It will give the international community more transparency and a greater say in decisions that could harm ocean biodiversity and will ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from marine genetic resources. The treaty is an important step towards the global goal of protecting 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030, but there is still a way to go – sixty countries must now ratify the agreement before the treaty can enter into force.

Becht Foundation is proud to have supported the High Seas Alliance in their campaign to protect the high seas and supports their call for swift ratification so that we lose no further time in protecting our shared ocean.

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