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UN Ocean Treaty Brings Wave of Optimism

The UN High Seas Treaty has generated optimism amongst conservation groups such as the Scottish Association for Marine Science

Credits: Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

An agreement made by UN member states on Saturday 4 March to protect the world’s oceans has generated optimism among conservation groups.

The treaty, which has been through 10 years of negotiations, aims to establish limits on fishing, shipping lanes, and toxic exploration activities such as deep-sea mining.

Professor Nicholas Owens, director of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), released a public statement to welcome the treaty.

“This is a fantastic step forward for the future preservation of our ocean environment and I congratulate everyone who had a role to play in its development”

The treaty, which takes note of areas named ‘high seas’ - areas where countries have a right to fish, ship, and conduct research - has established marine protected areas within the high sea zones where limits have been placed on activities such as fishing.

While largely in praise of the treaty, Owens referred to unanswered questions but remained optimistic. “There is still much to do and to agree on,” he said. “For example, if 30% of the world’s ocean is not going to be fished, how is that policed? I am, however, optimistic that we are on track to address one of the most pressing issues in global environmental protection.”

Ed Goodall, Policy Manager at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Institute, commented to Breakthrough Press about the treaty allowing protection of areas once uncovered. “We now have all of the tools to protect huge areas of our planet that we have been unable to before,” he said.

The treaty, which covers two-thirds of the world’s oceans but only areas that are outside a country’s national boundaries, signals for individual countries to look at their own marine protection policies.

“More can always be done, but any country can right now designate and create funding and enforcement mechanisms for Marine Protected Areas up to 200 miles from their coastline,” Goodall noted.

Continuing, Goodall called on individual countries to “meaningfully protect and restore at least 30% of coastal waters that are under their control.”

Goodall made to reference to how 200 miles out from the coast of Portugal, is “an area that is used by Portuguese, Spanish, Moroccan, French, British and Irish vessels.”

The treaty opens doors for cross-national collaboration, which Goodall noted: “Those countries can now work together to stop any negative actors from plundering that area more than another, and ideally restoring it to a thriving state.”


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