Countries agree to protect marine life in the oceans

WASHINGTON — For the first time, members of the United Nations agreed on a joint agreement to protect biodiversity in the oceans – almost half of the planet’s surface – concluding two weeks of talks in New York.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was enacted in 1994, before marine biodiversity was a well-established concept.

A new framework to protect marine life in regions outside national territorial waters, known as the high seas, has been under discussion for more than 20 years, but previous efforts to reach an agreement repeatedly stalled. The joint agreement agreement was reached late Saturday.

“We have only two major global commons – the atmosphere and the ocean,” said Georgetown marine biologist Rebecca Helm. Although the oceans may not attract much attention, “protecting this half of the earth’s surface is vital to the health of our planet.”

Now that the long-awaited treaty text has been finalized, Nichola Clark, an ocean expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts who observed the New York talks, said, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity opportunity to protect the oceans – a huge win for biodiversity.”

The treaty will create a new body to manage the conservation of ocean life and establish marine protected areas in the ocean. And Clark says it’s important to achieve the recent pledge at the UN Biodiversity Conference to protect 30% of the planet’s water, as well as its land, for conservation.

The treaty also establishes basic rules for conducting environmental impact assessments for commercial maritime activities.

“This means that all activities planned for the high seas must be reviewed, although not all will undergo a full assessment,” said Jessica Battle, an expert on ocean management at Worldwide Fund for Nature.

Many marine species – including dolphins, whales, turtles and many fish – make long annual migrations, crossing national borders and oceans. Efforts to protect them — and the human communities that rely on fishing or marine life-related tourism — have previously been stymied by a confusing patchwork of laws.

“This agreement will help bring together various regional agreements to address the threats and concerns of members of the species,” said Battle.

That protection also helps coastal biodiversity and the economy, said Gladys Martínez de Lemos, executive director of the nonprofit Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense that focuses on environmental issues throughout Latin America.

“Governments have taken an important step that strengthens the legal protection of two-thirds of the ocean and with it marine biodiversity and the livelihoods of coastal communities,” he said.

The question now is how well the ambitious agreement will be implemented.

The oceans have long suffered from exploitation due to commercial fishing and mining, as well as pollution from chemicals and plastics. The new agreement is about “recognizing that the ocean is not an infinite resource, and it requires global cooperation to use the ocean sustainably,” said Malin Pinsky, a biologist at Rutgers University. .


Follow Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina and Whittle at @pxwhittle


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