Author: Sofia Tsenikli
It is time for Ocean Lovers worldwide to celebrate! After years of political foot-dragging, and four hectic days of negotiations at the United Nations, a breakthrough came in the wee hours of Saturday morning, 24 January: governments around the world agreed to develop a legally-binding treaty to protect marine life beyond national territorial waters.
It is time for Ocean Lovers worldwide to celebrate! After years of political foot-dragging, and four hectic days of negotiations at the United Nations, a breakthrough came in the wee hours of Saturday morning, 24 January: governments around the world agreed to develop a legally-binding treaty to protect marine life beyond national territorial waters. With this historic decision, they began the process of setting rules to create ocean sanctuaries and protect the high seas – the vast areas of the ocean that belong to you, me and everyone. The agreement could also make it mandatory to conduct environmental impact assessments before human activities are allowed to take place in the vast ocean commons.
This significant progress would not have come without a passionate call for high seas protection from all over the globe. This week alone, #OceanLovers put the spotlight on the UN meeting with almost 6000 tweets and thousands more Facebook posts, letting delegates know the world expected them to act.
The UN has formally recognised that Ocean governance is about protection, not simply about ‘managing the exploitation’ of the oceans’ resources. We now have a golden opportunity to set global standards for oceans protection and integrate the patchwork of ocean organisations, enhancing cooperation between those regulating fishing, mining, shipping, and pollution.
Of course, this will be a huge undertaking. Setting the rules that will govern the protection of the largest biosphere on earth will not be quick or easy, and it will take even longer for these rules to be implemented out at sea. But the #waveofchange we wanted finally begins, here and now.
Big change looks impossible when you start, and inevitable when you finish – Bob Hunter.
It was nearly a decade ago that we first challenged the world’s governments to create a global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans with the publication of our Roadmap to Recovery.
This groundbreaking proposal demonstrated that there was sufficient scientific information available to establish an effective system. Since then, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted similar criteria and started to identify areas on the high seas in need of protection (including the waters around the North Pole where we want to establish an Arctic sanctuary). Of course, having set out this vision we then had to see how such a network could actually be established since there is currently no mechanism to create ocean sanctuaries on the high seas. Thus grew the notion and the campaign for the UN High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, attracting thousands of supporters wordwide.
Cover photo by Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace