How to conserve and sustainably manage biodiversity in the high seas?

© Laura Lallier

24.04.2016 -

Marine Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) are commonly referred to as the high seas. The high seas are biodiversity-rich and complex ecosystems that make up 40 % of the surface of the planet and are not controlled by one single nation. Often they are regarded as the world’s last global common. 

Sustainable resource management and biodiversity conservation are enormous challenges in the ABNJ. Increased navigations, seabed mining and the exploitation of marine genetic resources are just some of the activities that have an impact on marine life. More than 80 states met for a first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting at the UN headquarter from the 30th of March to the 8th of April to negotiate a new agreement (namely: a legally binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) to address these challenges.

Discussions focused on several main issues: marine genetic resources (MGRs), marine protected areas (MPAs), environmental impact assessments (EIAs) as well as capacity building and transfer of marine technology. The debate was heated regarding the rules of exploitation of MGR, equitable benefit sharing and how to include fisheries into the agreement. Overarching questions concerning the institutional structure and funding were raised throughout the meeting. Despite the difficulties, participants noted that “discussions are now turning to pragmatic approaches”. On the final day of the meeting, a “procedural roadmap” for the second PrepCom (26.8-09.09.2016) was agreed upon.

Prior to the PrepCom meeting, IUCN organised a series of side events and brought together scientists, legal experts and state delegations to facilitate the complex debate. In a workshop, organised by IUCN and the EU-funded PharmaSea project, scientist from developed and developing countries met at the New York University to exchange information about current challenges and opportunities in marine biotechnology and biodiscovery. Specific focus of the debate was the use of genetic resources from marine organisms. The results fed into the debate at UN level, where representatives of the PharmaSea consortium participated.

Some additional information on the first PrepCom:

- UN takes significant step towards a new treaty to conserve marine life beyond boundaries (Link)

- Can the world agree on how to conserve the oceans? (Link)

- Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Marine Areas beyond National Jurisdiction (Link)