International waters beyond national boundaries are currently free-for-all and thus not properly regulated as a result of which they are being polluted and overfished. To address the situation, 140 countries are using the United Nations as a platform to act and establish a treaty to protect and regulate the high seas. Following more than 5 years of talks, UN members are now about to agree to draft a new rulebook by 2020, which aims to establish conservation areas, catch quotas and scientific monitoring. “This is the biggest opportunity to change the status quo we have ever had,” commented Will McCallum, the head of oceans at Greenpeace. “It could change everything.”
Maria Damanaki, a former EU Commissioner for Marine Affairs and Fisheries who is now in charge of the Nature Conservancy, commented that this move could ?“open the way to create a Paris Agreement for the ocean. This could be the most important step I have seen in my 30 years working on oceans.” Only 3.5% of the world’s oceans are currently regulated and protected which leads to the high seas being increasingly over-exploited and contaminated by pollution, fishing and seabed mining. “There are multiple stressors and they are all getting worse,” said Ms. Damaki.
Environmentalists have come in support of a treaty and ocean activists believe that this momentum will lift the subject to the same level as climate and land biodiversity and ultimately lead to a legally binding set of rules. This has led Aulani Wilhelm, SVP, Center for Oceans at Conservation International to argue that “the science is clear on the role oceans play in ensuring the current and future livability of the planet. If we want our oceans to continue to provide food, absorb carbon, and regulate climate for the planet, protecting the biodiversity of the high seas is critical”.