International Day for Biological Diversity

Date: 17th May 2024

Protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 rests on safeguarding biodiversity beyond borders

By Rebecca Hubbard, Director, High Seas Alliance

At the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in 2022, nations committed to protecting at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030 as part of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the minimum scientists say is required to stem the loss of marine life and avoid a collapse of global fisheries.

With just six years left to reach this ambitious target, success rests on safeguarding biodiversity not just in coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) under national jurisdiction, but also in our shared international waters and seabed that don’t fall under any single country’s control.

These ‘areas beyond national jurisdiction’, commonly known as the High Seas, cover half the surface of our planet and harbor much of its biodiversity and ecosystems. They encompass biologically rich seamounts and hydrothermal vents, and provide vital services to the entire planet. Each night, in the greatest migration on Earth, billions of creatures emerge from the deep to feed in surface waters, while some surface dwellers swim down to great depths in search of food, sequestering carbon as they go. Meanwhile, open ocean phytoplankton produce half the world’s oxygen and form the base of the marine food web.

Yet the High Seas has been left vulnerable to threats such as climate change, overfishing, and shipping due to the lack of a unified, global system to safeguard marine biodiversity or regulate potentially damaging human activities. Currently, only 1.5% of this vast and biologically rich ocean area is fully protected.

Today, we’ve a chance to change this. In June 2023, after nearly two decades of negotiations, world leaders adopted the new High Seas Treaty. This pioneering global agreement presents an historic opportunity to protect ocean life beyond our national borders. By enabling the establishment of a representative network of science-based and well-regulated marine protected areas on the High Seas for the first time, it will help us build the resilience of our ocean.

However, to transform this agreement into action in the water, it’s imperative that at least 60 countries ratify the High Seas Treaty swiftly. With the countdown to 2030 fast approaching, we’ve set leaders an ambitious but achievable target of ratifying in time for the UN Ocean Conference in June 2025. We’re also urging nations to propose the first generation of High Seas MPAs now, so we can fast-track their implementation the moment the Treaty enters into force.

Ultimately, we cannot achieve the 30 by 30 target and secure a healthy, resilient marine environment for the future unless we extend our ambition and come together to protect biodiversity beyond borders. That’s why, on this year’s #BiodiversityDay, we’re calling on all nations to ‘Be part of the Plan’ and scale ambition by spearheading the #RaceForRatification of the High Seas Treaty.

 

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