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Historic Treaty Seeks to Protect 70% of Earth’s Oceans


Iridigorgia—deep coral.  ©Pixabay
Iridigorgia—deep coral. ©Pixabay

United Nations member states have agreed on a treaty text for management of the two-thirds of Earth’s oceans that lie outside national jurisdictions.


These vast areas, known as the “high seas,” refer to the waters outside the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) that now extend 200 nautical miles (370km) from a nation’s coasts, Reuters said in a March 30, 2023 article.


Nations currently can limit human activity in EEZ waters and sea beds.


The new international treaty—known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty (BBNJ)—is twenty years in the making. It aims “to protect biodiversity by establishing large-scale marine protected areas and regulating marine research for scientific and commercial development,” says Reuters.


Some of the treaty’s goals are to combat ocean pollution and overfishing, as well as regulate the building of infrastructures in the oceans for agriculture, mining, and power plants. While there is limited study of the Earth’s oceans, research warns that marine species are at special risk for extinction due to man-made activities.


The Marine Conservation Institute, a member of the High Seas Alliance, says less than 3% of the oceans are presently “fully or highly protected.” It is hoped that the treaty will help the UN achieve its “30x30” goal to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and water by 2030.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the treaty a “breakthrough” for “global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health,” and credited Rena Lee, Singapore’s Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues and Special Envoy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, for her leadership and dedication in taking the lead negotiating position for the “historic” agreement. 


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