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UN highseas

UN Agrees To Protect High Seas

After intense debates and years of lobbying from environmentalists, member states reach a consensus to protect marine diversity beyond national territories

Four days of heated deliberations at the United Nations' New York headquarters ended in a landmark victory for ocean conservation groups when member states finally agreed to negotiate a treaty for the protection of marine life outside national territorial waters. These areas – the high seas and the international seabed – correspond to half of the planet.

About 200 delegates, representing nations, intergovernmental groups and non-governmental orgnisations, participated in the meeting of the UN Working Group on Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. The aim of the sessions was to come up with recommendations for a new legal instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

While the proposals from the meeting need to be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September in order to become legally binding, the development is a milestone for environmental groups that have long been pushing for the protection of the high seas. One of these groups is the Global Ocean Commission, whose change.org petition addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon currently has 286,377 supporters from 111 countries.

‘Though the final results remain uncertain, many have high hopes for the new treaty,’ Kristina M. Gjerde, Senior High Seas Advisor to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in a statement. ‘It could help secure the designation of a truly global system of marine protected areas, mainstream biodiversity conservation into the governance of high seas fisheries, shipping and seabed mining, and provide for more effective access to marine genetic resources. The treaty could also foster important new scientific and commercial discoveries while ensuring the benefits are shared by all.’

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