It’s High Time for a High Seas Treaty

Great potential to build on the momentum from the 5th Session of the Intergovernmental Conference

We have a once in a lifetime opportunity right now to help protect half the planet – the “High Seas” – which lies outside of any country’s jurisdiction and is unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation. This great global commons is critical to the health of the entire ocean, and for our own health. We all need a healthy ocean to survive and thrive, no matter where we live.

Protection of the ocean is woefully inadequate. Only about 1% of the High Seas have been protected, and marine life around the world is under threat from unsustainable and illegal fishing, shipping traffic, noise pollution, plastic and chemical pollution, deep-sea mining and acidifying and warming waters as a result of the climate crisis. A lack of unified governance leaves the vast majority of the ocean unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation, with activities unregulated or controlled by different business sectors and governments under a complex structure.

United Nations member nations are in the final stages of negotiating a new High Seas Treaty that could ensure meaningful protection for ocean life. They are meeting 20 February-3 March in New York City for the resumed 5th session of the Intergovernmental Conference. A strong treaty would also significantly help move the planet closer to the ambitious but attainable international target that was recently agreed to in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to protect at least 30% of the lands, waters and ocean by 2030 (30×30).

It’s taken almost two decades to get this far with the High Seas. We are almost there! Government leaders have an opportunity during the next two weeks with the final round of negotiations of a new legally-binding international treaty to protect the High Seas.

With a new High Seas Treaty, the global community can provide the first legal framework for marine protected areas (MPAs), environmental impact assessments (EIAs), and many other vital conservation measures for our one world ocean that connects us all. However, without increased international ambition and cooperation, this new treaty will not be sufficiently robust to give our ocean the protection it needs to continue sustaining us.

In particular, the new High Seas Treaty must include:

  • a strong legal process to establish, effectively manage and enforce a representative network of MPAs in the High Seas;
  • comprehensive, globally accountable, effective and rigorous EIAs for any ocean-based activities, with international review where necessary;
  • a global decision-making body, that also enables key decisions to be voted on rather than relying solely on consensus;
  • a robust institutional framework to ensure effective implementation and compliance, including an independent scientific committee;
  • adequate financing to ensure implementation, capacity building and technology transfer;
  • the equitable access and sharing of benefits from the use of marine genetic resources.

The status quo has got to go! We urge national leaders at the upcoming negotiations to push for a High Seas Treaty that benefits ocean life, rather than short-term interests and concerns. Their high-level commitment and engagement during this final round of negotiations is going to be essential to ensure that agreements can be brokered, and the treaty finalized.

You can help!

Help our nations’ leaders seize this once in a generation opportunity! You can amplify efforts and generate the political will at the highest levels to ensure a new vision for ocean governance that truly embraces transformative change that our blue planet needs.

Urge governments to find common ground and make history with an ambitious High Seas Treaty that benefits ocean life.

Take these steps to show your support on social media for a robust #HighSeasTreaty:

Want to do more? 

    • Share and retweet the social posts from @HighSeasAllianc during the Conference (20 February-3 March) to help amplify the growing support for a high ambition High Seas Treaty.
    • Encourage others you know to share their support on social by sharing this blog post and/or Action Guide.

Learn more and stay informed about the High Seas Treaty: