Nature Beyond Borders: The Crucial Role of High Seas Marine Protected Areas for Migratory Species

Date: 5th February 2024

The vast expanse of the High Seas, covering nearly half of the Earth’s surface, is home to a wealth of marine biodiversity. Among the myriad species that traverse these open waters are migratory species whose journeys often cross international boundaries.

With the slogan ‘Nature Knows No Borders’, the upcoming 14th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS CoP14), February 12-17, invites global attention to the interconnected issues of migratory species and the need for transboundary cooperation to conserve them and their habitats. Synergistic with the CMS CoP’s past invitation to states to identify, designate and effectively maintain comprehensive and coherent ecological networks of protected sites, the High Seas Treaty* will allow the creation of a network of fully and highly protected High Seas marine protected areas (MPAs). 

Once it has entered into force, the High Seas Treaty will set out a legal framework and clear process for the establishment and effective management of networks of representative and well-connected MPAs in the High Seas, including highly and fully protected areas where no harmful industrial activities are allowed, offering sanctuary to migratory species and promoting the sustainable use of our ocean. 

The High Seas Treaty complements this by establishing basic modern requirements for assessing and managing planned human activities affecting marine biodiversity – and thus migratory species and their migration routes – in the High Seas.

Connecting the Dots: High Seas MPAs as Guardians of Migratory Species

Establishing networks of representative and well-connected High Seas MPAs can provide several benefits for migratory species, contributing to their conservation and promoting the overall health of marine ecosystems.

Preservation of Critical Habitats

Networks of High Seas MPAs would protect vital habitats along migratory routes. By designating these areas, we safeguard key locations where migratory species feed, breed, and rest. This protection is fundamental to the conservation of these species and ensures the continuation of their intricate life cycles.

Reduced Threats from Over-Exploitation

One of the primary benefits of establishing networks of representative and well-connected High Seas MPAs is to provide sanctuaries that shield migratory species from anthropogenic threats. Overfishing, habitat degradation, and pollution are significant concerns for these species. Networks of High Seas MPAs, including highly and fully protected areas where no harmful industrial activities are allowed, would provide a haven where they can thrive without the immediate pressures of exploitation, fostering healthier populations. The High Seas Treaty’s provisions on environmental impact assessments also aim to protect areas beyond national jurisdiction that are not desingated MPAs. 

Enhanced Ecological Connectivity

The connectivity of marine ecosystems is paramount for the well-being of migratory species. Networks of High Seas MPAs would contribute to this connectivity by serving as bridges, protecting migratory corridors and critical habitats, and ensuring unimpeded movement. This would not only sustain genetic diversity but also promote the resilience of populations facing environmental changes. 

Climate Change Resilience

Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to marine life. Fully and highly protected areas are becoming crucial in securing the long-term survival of species facing climate-related threats.

Scientific Research and Knowledge Sharing

Networks of High Seas MPAs would provide unique opportunities for scientific research and monitoring. By studying protected areas, researchers can unravel the mysteries of migratory species, understanding their behaviors, migration patterns, and ecological requirements. This knowledge forms the bedrock for informed conservation strategies and management plans.

Global Conservation Cooperation

The establishment of networks of High Seas MPAs necessitates international collaboration. By transcending geopolitical boundaries, these protected areas become a symbol of shared responsibility for the conservation of migratory species. Such collaboration fosters a united front against the challenges faced by these species in areas beyond national jurisdiction. 

The spotlight on the need to protect threatened migratory species and rally international cooperation for that cause during CMS CoP14 serves as a reminder of the urgent need for swift ratification of the High Seas Treaty. By re-doubling their efforts to ratify, world leaders can affirm their commitment to nurturing the rich biodiversity of the ocean and safeguarding the migratory species that call these waters home. Networks of MPAs will contribute not only to the immediate well-being of these species but also to the resilience and sustainability of our shared global ocean. 

The journey towards a harmonious coexistence with nature begins with acknowledging that, indeed, nature knows no borders. Read more about the path to creating the first generation of High Seas MPAs and call on world leaders to ratify the High Seas treaty NOW!

*The High Seas Alliance sometimes uses the term “High Seas Treaty“ as a short-hand for the BBNJ Agreement. HSA acknowledges that the scope of the BBNJ Agreement encompasses all Areas beyond national jurisdiction, including the seafloor and water column. This choice of wording is intended to ease understanding for broad audiences and does not convey a prioritization among the components or principles of the BBNJ Agreement.

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