Oceans – On Saturday evening, over 200 countries entered into a legally binding treaty to safeguard marine life.
The treaty requires governments to manage and safeguard marine life in international waters that encompass more than half of the globe.
The agreement comes after two weeks of talks at the United Nations headquarters in New York’s midtown Manhattan.
The treaty took two decades to develop, with a final session that stretched more than 36 hours.
The ocean treaty gives countries legal means to create (and manage) marine protected areas and sanctuaries to conserve the ocean’s biodiversity.
The treaty addresses environmental evaluations that examine the possible harm caused by economic operations such as deep-sea mining.
Greenpeace Nordic’s Oceans Campaigner, Laura Meller, issued a statement applauding the decision.
“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” said Meller.
A wider habitat
Many people believe that the seas are the world’s last genuine wilderness because they include untapped regions that have yet to be explored.
The massive body of water encompasses more than 60% of the world’s seas in terms of surface area, including everything 200 nautical miles outside countries’ territorial waters.
The waters are home to a diverse range of organisms and environments.
They also support worldwide fisheries, on which billions of people depend on for food and money.
Furthermore, the ocean has served as an important buffer against climate change, absorbing more than 90% of the surplus heat in the world during the past several decades.
Despite their importance to humans and animals, the seas are also extremely fragile.
The climate issue is raising ocean temperatures, which is increasing acidic waters and endangering marine life.
Another threat to the waters and marine life is human activities.
Since overfishing depletes resources, industrial fishing has contributed to environmental damage.
Moreover, bycatching might result in the capture of creatures such as dolphins and sea turtles.
Shipping and the increasing deep-sea mining sector have also contributed to the ocean’s deterioration.
Additionally, the race to exploit the ocean’s genetic resources has had an effect on ocean life, extracting material from marine plants and animals to provide more resources to pharmaceutical firms.
International waters protection
Liz Karan, Pew Charitable Trusts’ oceans program director, emphasized the inadequacy of marine life measures, saying:
“Currently, there are no comprehensive regulations for the protections of marine life in this area.”
Although there are regulations in place, they are fragmented, inadequately enforced, and frequently ignored.
As a result, high seas activities are often uncontrolled, and they are subject to exploitation due to limited supervision.
Just 0.8% of international seas are recognized and protected, whereas 1.2% are “highly protected.”
“There are huge unmanaged gaps of habitat between the puzzle pieces,” said Douglas McCauley, an oceans science professor at the University of California Santa Barbara.
“It is truly bad out there.”
The recently adopted ocean treaty is intended to remedy gaps and give legal authority for the creation and management of marine protected zones in international waters.
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According to experts, the treaty will be critical in reaching global diversity promises made by governments in December at COP15, the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.
The treaty, according to Monica Medina, US Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, would help them achieve their objective of conserving or safeguarding more than 30% of the global ocean by 2030.
The 20-year process
The Oceans Treaty began two decades ago, when the United Nations formed an ad hoc body to address ocean preservation in 2004.
Only in 2015 did the organization adopt a resolution to create a legally binding ocean pact.
Years of preparation culminated in discussions in 2018.
“It has been a long arc from the first time the question was raised, to where we are now,” said Liz Karan.
There were hopes that 2022 would be the tipping point, but talks fell apart in August.
The most recent negotiations, however, were billed as a last opportunity for the world’s seas.
Throughout the negotiations, several voiced concern that an agreement would not be achieved since disagreements threatened to derail the discussions.
“It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride,” said Karan.
Some of the key roadblocks to reaching an agreement include:
- Developing procedures for establishing marine protected zones
- Ensuring that expenses and benefits are distributed equally
The last issue is especially important since underdeveloped countries may lack the technology or capacity to conduct scientific maritime investigations.
The arduous last session, however, ended on Saturday night with an agreement.
“We praise countries for seeking compromises, putting aside differences and delivering a treaty that will let us protect the oceans, build our resilience to climate change, and safeguard the lives and livelihoods of billions of people,” said Laura Meller.
Countries must legally approve and ratify the treaty with the agreement.
As a result, they will be able to begin implementing marine sanctuaries and attempt to meet the 30% worldwide ocean preservation objective by 2030.
“We have half a decade left, and we can’t be complacent,” said Meller.
Douglas McCauley added his perspective, saying:
“If we want the high seas to be healthy for the next century, we have to modernize this system – now. And this is our one, and potentially only, chance to do that. And time is urgent.”
“Climate change is about to rain down hellfire on our ocean.”
Image source: Mint