Countries reach ‘historic’ deal to protect marine life on high seas

For the first time, UN Member States have agreed to a unified convention to protect the biodiversity of the high seas. This represents a tipping point for vast areas of the planet hitherto unprotected by a complex patchwork of laws.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force in 1994, before marine biodiversity was a well-established concept. The treaty agreement ended his two-week talks in New York.

A modern framework for protecting marine life in the off-boundary waters known as the high seas has been under discussion for more than two decades, but previous efforts to reach agreement have repeatedly stalled. rice field. A unified pact treaty, which applies to nearly half of the Earth’s surface, was reached late Saturday.

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“We have only two major global commons, the atmosphere and the oceans,” says Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist in Georgetown. Protecting this half of the world is absolutely critical to the health of our planet.”

Nicola Clarke, a marine expert with the Pew Charitable Trust who observed the talks in New York, called the long-awaited treaty text “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect our oceans and a major victory for biodiversity.” I called.

The treaty creates a new body to manage the protection of marine life and establish marine protected areas on the high seas. Mr Clark said this is important to meet the recent pledge of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference to protect his 30% of the earth’s water and land for conservation.

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Treaty negotiations were initially expected to conclude on Friday, but were extended overnight until Saturday. The creation of the sometimes endangered treaty represents a “historic and overwhelming success for international ocean protection,” said Steffi Lemke, Germany’s environment minister.

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“For the first time, we have reached a binding agreement on the high seas, which until now has been largely unprotected,” Lemke said. “Comprehensive protection of endangered species and habitats on more than 40% of the Earth’s surface is finally possible.”

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The Convention also sets out the basic rules for conducting environmental impact assessments of commercial activities at sea.

“It means that all planned activities on the high seas need to be considered, but not all will be fully evaluated,” said Jessica Battle, an ocean governance expert at the World Wildlife Fund. ‘ said.

Several marine species, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and many fish, make long annual migrations across national borders and high seas. The efforts to protect marine life, along with human communities that depend on fishing and tourism associated with them, have long proven difficult for international governing bodies.

“This treaty will help bring together different regional treaties so that we can address threats and concerns that cross species boundaries,” Battle said.

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Its protection will also benefit coastal biodiversity and economies, said Gladys Martinez de Lemos, executive director of the nonprofit American Environmental Defense Association, which focuses on environmental issues across Latin America. .

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“Governments have taken important steps to strengthen legal protections for two-thirds of the oceans, protecting marine biodiversity and coastal livelihoods,” she said. rice field.

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The question is how well the ambitious treaty will be implemented.

Formal adoptions are also prominent, and many conservationists and environmental groups have vowed to keep a close eye on them.

The high seas have long been exploited not only by chemical and plastic pollution, but also by commercial fishing and mining. Malin Pinsky, a biologist at Rutgers University, said the new agreement “recognises that the ocean is not an infinite resource and that sustainable use of the ocean requires global cooperation.” ”.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Berlin.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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