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Saving the High Seas
Author: Mary Kate Frank
More than half of the planet is covered by water that belongs to all of us. Why is so little of it protected?
In the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean lies an area known as the Sargasso Sea. Thick clumps of seaweed float on its surface, providing shelter for baby sea turtles. This stretch of water also functions as a breeding ground for endangered eels, a feeding stop for migrating whales, and a home for hundreds of other species— some found nowhere else on the planet. Its ecosystem is so complex that the Sargasso Sea (see map, pp. 10-11) is often called a “floating rainforest.”
The Sargasso Sea is a critical habitat in need of protection. Its marine life is threatened by overfishing and plastic debris. The Sargasso is so far from any country’s shores, however, that no one nation has the legal authority to fully protect the area.
More than half of the world’s ocean waters are in the same boat: They’re too far from shore to fall under the governance of any one country. Under international law, countries control only the waters within about 230 miles of their shores. The waters beyond that—known collectively as the high seas—belong to everyone.