Protecting the Ocean We Need - Securing the Future We Want

Launch of the Coral Reefs on the High Seas Coalition

On May 15-17, 2019 a group of experts in ocean science, policy, law and communications convened in Denver, Colorado to launch the Coral Reefs on the High Seas Coalition, a global alliance of partners that seeks to support the establishment of the first large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) that would protect mesophotic coral reefs in areas beyond national jurisdiction. By reviewing approaches that have been successful in establishing many large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) within national jurisdictions, meeting discussions focused on how the coalition could best support the establishment of high seas MPAs by generating the scientific evidence base and developing the strategic communications that are necessary to advance international awareness and action. Furthermore, meeting discussions developed the framework for a two-year work plan of activities to advance coral reef conservation on the high seas, as well as how to best collaborate across the initative. 


                        Potential mesophotic coral reefs on the high seas based on data from the Global Seamount Database.


Coral reef ecosystems have a long history of protection within many countries due to their numerous ecosystem services and well documented benefits to humanity. While the terms “coral reef” and “high seas” are rarely combined in the same sentence, coral reefs can occur in remote and deeper waters outside the jurisdiction of coastal states. In fact, coral reefs have been documented at depths down to 150 meters in clear tropical waters. Termed mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCE), these reefs occur in the ocean’s “twilight zone”, which is deeper than what can be reached by SCUBA diving, but shallower than what is typically explored with submersibles. As a result, these are some of the most under-surveyed of all ocean ecosystems, and because they are not protected by the laws of any country, they are among the most vulnerable and potentially overexploited reefs on Earth.


Using global inventories of seamounts and seafloor mapping data, meeting participants identified regions with potential mesophotic coral reefs on the high seas, and discussed the scientific, political and logistical differences of focusing high seas conservation efforts on each region. High seas coral reefs in the Southeastern and North Central Pacific were identified as holding the most promise for conservation. Early planning of expeditions that will explore coral reefs in these regions in the next two years is underway, with the first expedition to explore mesophotic reefs around Sala y Gomez scheduled for December 2019. For more information contact Dr. Daniel Wagner at dwagner@conservation.org.

Potential high seas coral reefs and established marine protected areas in the Southeastern Pacific (top) and North Central Pacific (bottom)