Once upon a time on the High Seas: telling the story of this vast mysterious place

Date: 2nd July 2024

For the past eight months, BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions – the content studio from BBC Studios – has been working closely with the team at High Seas Alliance, along with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition,  Natural Resources Defense Council and Oceans North to produce a multimedia article for the new online Blue Horizons series, which the BBC launched on 12 June 2024. 

Screenshot of the BBC submersive article “Hidden World Beneath the Waves

July 2024

The series, which features 18 stories, explores how the ocean – from the coast to the deep waters of the High Seas – is intrinsically connected with each and every one of our lives in a diversity of ways. 

The story we’ve been contributing to  – Hidden World Beneath the Waves: Why the High Seas Needs to be Protected – is a submersive experience that takes us from the ocean’s surface to kilometers down into the deep, dark depths. As we travel, we meet some incredible creatures along the way and learn more about what lives in these areas, including why they are so very important to protect. 

To mark the launch, the BBC hosted an event for key partners at its London studios on 20 June. The event focused on the importance of effective storytelling in the face of climate change and the urgency for action. A few of us from the High Seas and Deep Sea teams had the privilege of attending this inspiring event in person. 

Launch of BBC StoryWorks Blue Horizon series at the BBC Studios: panel of experts discussing the importance of effective storytelling for climate action.

The Power of Storytelling

“Storytelling” has become a buzzword over the past decade. It is now seen as an integral part of marketing and campaigning activities, with entire storytelling departments established to connect with an audience scattered over many different communication channels and geographies. However, the act of telling stories is something we have been doing for tens of thousands of years across all cultures. From the visual stories of cave drawings and the oral tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation to the written word through books and poems, the invention of photography and films, and now the digital age – the means through which we tell stories is constantly evolving, but the basics remain the same. As humans, we all love a good story. And if a story is told right, it is magical, especially if it has a happy ending!

So what makes a good story? As the event highlighted, it needs to capture our imagination, tap into our curiosity, fascinate us, evoke emotions, and give us a feeling of connection. A good story is one that we want to share with others. But sharing a story with a wider audience is not easy. You need to cut through all the noise to be heard. To do that, our stories need to make us feel something so that we care about the outcome. 

The story of the High Seas 

The story of the High Seas is rich and largely untold. Covering half our planet, this vast area is one of the least known and unexplored areas on Earth. Home to underwater landscapes as varied as those on land – from migratory super highways for species such as whales and turtles,  underwater mountain ranges teeming with weird and wonderful creatures found nowhere else on Earth, and disco-colored bioluminescent creatures that communicate with each other in the pitch dark of the ocean through light. This richly patterned tapestry of ecosystems and creatures together play a key role in the functioning of the entire planet. 

Though these places may feel far away, some have deep-seated connections to humans. For example, Hidden World Beneath the Waves talks about the first vessels of the Austronesian people, master seafarers, that roamed the High Seas of the Pacific 7,000 years ago, navigating by the sun, moon and stars. Their descendants now wish to bring back this tradition and reclaim an ancient “sea road” from Hawaii to Tahiti.

Screenshot of the BBC submersive article “Hidden World Beneath the Waves

Building hope and solutions: The new High Seas Treaty

Something that particularly resonated during the event is how the most engaging stories are those that spike our interest while also providing hope, optimism, and bold solutions.

With the story of the High Seas, we now have that hope. Following years of discussion and negotiation, the world’s governments have come together and agreed on a new Treaty to protect this special place. It now needs to be ratified by at least 60 countries as soon as possible, so it can enter into force and start implementing protections.

To date, eight countries have ratified the Treaty, and 91 have signed it, indicating their commitment to ratifying. The process of ratification can take time nationally, as countries line up parliamentary support and develop the legislation needed to enact this new international Treaty. But there is progress. Many countries are committed to ratifying before June 2025, when a key UN Ocean meeting will take place in France. And what’s more, governments are already starting to prepare for entry into force. Last week, UN member states met in New York for an organizational Preparatory Commission meeting to agree on the process for the Treaty’s entry into force and for its first Conference of the Parties, or CoP. 

In the meantime, we will continue raising awareness and galvanizing political momentum to inspire action for this latest piece of essential ocean governance to enter into force as soon as possible. This Blue Horizons article is an important element in helping to tell the incredible story of our amazing Blue Planet, to reach and inspire new audiences and, most importantly, to encourage world leaders to act. 

To date, 8 countries have ratified the High Seas Treaty, and 91 have signed it. Source: The High Seas Alliance Ratification Tracker
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