UN ‘High Seas Treaty’ good news for oceans, but finer details not yet clear

The Globe and Mail

Wendy Stueck, The Globe and Mail

A landmark marine treaty is good news for the world’s oceans, but many details remain to be ironed out, including how potential wealth derived from ocean sources can be more equitably shared and how protected areas can be monitored to ensure they are more than mere lines on a map, ocean researchers and advocacy groups say.

The legal framework, announced Saturday at United Nations headquarters in New York, is the result of multi-country talks that began in 2004. The so-called “High Seas Treaty” would allow for the creation of marine protected areas in the high seas – waters that are outside any country’s territory. It would help meet a global commitment to protect biodiversity in 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

The treaty would also put more money into marine conservation and regulate access to and use of marine genetic resources. Those include sponges, algae or other marine life, which can be used to produce medicines, cosmetics or other substances.

The high seas amount to nearly half of the Earth’s surface, and they are currently governed by a patchwork of treaties and regulations.

If the new treaty is ratified by member states, it would provide countries, for the first time, with a legally binding mechanism for conserving species and ecosystems in international waters, and for managing activities that could negatively affect ocean life.


MiningWatch Canada, an environmental advocacy group, argued that measure didn’t go far enough and urged the government to call for a deep-sea mining moratorium in international waters.

In an e-mail Monday, MiningWatch Canada research co-ordinator Catherine Coumans said it’s not yet clear how the treaty will affect deep-sea mining.

“While some aspects of its higher level aspirations around transparency, data sharing, stopping biodiversity loss/species protection will likely be useful in arguing against mining of the deep seabed, the hard goal of 30 per cent of the high seas protected by 2030 leaves a lot of room for deep seabed mining to continue,” she said.

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