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United Nations treaty to pave way for ocean life protection in international waters

UN High Seas Biodiversity Treaty
Posted at 3:40 PM, Mar 06, 2023

More than 150 countries have agreed to a treaty that will offer the tools to protect marine life in international waters.

International waters, also known as the high seas, make up about two thirds of the ocean, and cover around half of the planet’s surface. It includes all of the ocean that exists 200 nautical miles away or more from any coast.

“We haven't had the tools and mechanisms that we need to really effectively protect and conserve these places,” said Nichola Clark, an officer on the Ocean Governance Team at Pew Charitable Trusts.

The United Nations has been discussing the issues addressed in this treaty for decades.

Under the treaty, there will be legal tools to help protect biodiversity, including the ability to create and manage marine protected areas.

“That’s what this treaty offers is a chance to do that, to really ensure that we are able to protect our full interconnected ecosystem on the oceans from coasts to high seas,” she said.

One example of an animal that could benefit is the leatherback sea turtle, according to Clark.

“I like to use an example of leatherback turtles. Turtles that spend most of their life actually in the high seas and international waters, but they have to come back to shore to nest,” Clark said.

“Protecting just their nesting areas on the coasts isn't enough. We actually have to protect them where they spend most of their lives,” she said.

So what’s next for the treaty?

“They've agreed on the text, the treaty text itself, which is the biggest hurdle. They’ll still have to do a couple things before it's up and running. They’ll have to do a quick legal scrub of the treaty text, they'll formally adopt it, and then will start a campaign to ratify, so that’s where countries would actually sign up to formally agree to the new treaty,” she said.

At least 60 countries need to sign the treaty at that point for it to pass.