Jun 19, 2023 - Science

UN adopts "historic" high seas treaty to protect marine life

Red Sea Clownfish, also known as anemonefish, in a coral reef near Aqaba, Jordan, in December. Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The United Nations adopted a landmark international treaty to govern the high seas on Monday after nearly two decades of negotiations.

Why it matters: The first-ever legally binding global agreement of its kind, known as the Treaty of the High Seas, provides framework for environmental protections to biodiversity in international waters — which cover over 60% of the Earth’s surface. Only 1.2% of the world's ocean areas are currently protected.

  • The adoption of the agreement that's formally known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty follows a commitment by UN member nations in December to protect 30% of the world's land and water by 2030 with the aim of halting and reversing the current extinction crisis.

What they're saying: UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Monday climate change "is heating our planet, disrupting weather patterns and ocean currents, and altering marine ecosystems and the species living there."

  • He noted biodiversity "is under attack from overfishing, over-exploitation and ocean acidification" — with one third of fish stocks being harvested at unsustainable levels.

Meanwhile, "we are polluting our coastal waters with chemicals, plastics and human waste."

The bottom line: "The historic achievement we celebrate today is vital to address these threats, and ensure the sustainability of those areas not covered under national jurisdiction — over two thirds of the ocean," Guterres added.

A screenshot of a tweet by UN chief Antonio Guterres saying: "Our ocean is under threat.  But the High Seas Treaty on protecting biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction gives the ocean a fighting chance.  This historic achievement is an example of global threats being met by global action."
Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres/Twitter
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