Get the facts about the high seas—the two-thirds of our world’s oceans that are not under any country's jurisdiction. This quick whiteboard tutorial explains why these international waters are so important and how the United Nations can help protect high seas marine life and ocean resources.
Beyond the waters under the jurisdiction of coastal countries lies a vast region that few will ever see first-hand, but on which everyone on Earth depends. It’s known as the high seas and covers nearly half of the planet.
These waters and the deep seabed that lie beneath them, were once thought to be empty— but they are actually full of life. Sea turtles, whales, sharks, and migratory fish spend much of their lives in these waters.
They are also home to hydrothermal vents, unique seamounts and geomorphic structures, deep sea corals, uniquely adapted fish species, and tiny organisms—many of which have yet to be discovered.
The high seas are vital to the global ocean ecosystem; providing much needed protein to a growing population. Nearly 10 million tons of fish are caught each year on the high seas—generating more than $16 billion once landed. And the fishing and shipping industries rely on the high seas to provide economic security and jobs.
But the high seas are under threat.
As shipping and fishing industries continue to grow and new activities such as rocket launches, power generation, aquaculture, and seabed mining emerge, the demands on the high seas are an increasing burden.
While shipping, mining, and fishing are regulated by international organizations, there is still no management for many new activities, or coordinated governance of existing high seas industries.
In June 2015, the United Nations agreed to begin negotiations over a new international treaty to protect high seas biodiversity. This treaty is the first of its kind and for how our valuable ocean resources are managed.
The new treaty could allow countries to protect important and vulnerable parts of the high seas by creating marine protected areas and reserves. And it could require environmental impact assessments for commercial operations to determine when, where, and whether various activities should be allowed.
Achieving a strong treaty will need the efforts of government leaders and officials from around the world—and broad support from those who make their living from the ocean, feed their families from it, or just love it.
Now is the time to secure a robust new international agreement that ensures the health of the high seas for generations to come.
For more information, visit www.pewtrusts.org/highseas.