The United Nations on Monday adopted a pact commonly known as the High Seas Treaty, which establishes the first-ever framework for governing practices like fishing, mining and oil extraction in international waters, an issue that has threatened oceanic ecosystems across the globe with little oversight.
Nearly 200 nations signed the document, officially known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Treaty, after agreeing to its terms in March following roughly 15 years of discussion.
The treaty is meant “to prevent a cascading of species extinctions” brought on by overfishing, oil extraction, deep-sea mining and other activities with environmental impacts that occur in the high seas, Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Oceans, told CBS.
The legislation establishes large-scale marine protected areas in international waters, which protect biodiversity beyond the 12-mile stretches of water off coastlines protected by individual countries.
It also includes guidelines to measure environmental impacts of high sea activities like fishing and mining, and requires countries to present an assessment of those impacts to the UN about any activities that country is doing in international waters.
A new group called the Conference of Parties will be set up to oversee and enforce compliance with the treaty’s terms.
The High Seas Treaty is the first-ever international attempt to govern international waters, which make up close to two-thirds of the world’s oceans, according to the environmental organization Conservation International. Before this, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, adopted in 1982, was the last attempt to extend governance farther into the ocean, as it added regulations to oceans within 12 nautical miles of countries’ coastlines. As of 2023, 90% of big fish populations are depleted and 50% of coral reefs are destroyed, according to the UN. Overfishing is a major culprit for fish population depletion, as it is known to interrupt food chains and larger marine ecosystems.
What To Watch For
The treaty still needs to be ratified by at least 60 members to go into effect. In the U.S., the Senate has to either approve or deny a resolution to ratify a UN treaty—the U.S. is not part of the Law of the Sea. During Ronald Reagan’s administration, the U.S. chose to agree to act in accordance with the Law of the Sea, but did not ratify it. Advocates are hopeful the ratifications will be completed by the UN’s next ocean conference, which is scheduled for June 2025 in Nice, France, Thomson told CBS.
The High Seas Treaty, Explained (Reuters)
Historic treaty reached to protect marine life on high seas (CBS)
According to Scientists, New United Nations Treaty Should Protect More Than Just Commercial Fisheries (Forbes)