The fourth and final meeting of a United Nations Preparatory Committee ended last week with a recommendation that the U.N. General Assembly convene treaty negotiations aimed at protecting the high seas.
The so-called high seas comprise more than 40 percent of Earth's surface and about two-thirds of the oceans. They are vast areas that lie 200 nautical miles or more from shore—in other words, beyond any national jurisdiction. That means that, while the high seas can be said to belong to everyone, no one body or agency is tasked with their governance and there is no comprehensive management structure in place that is capable of protecting the marine life that relies on them.
The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2015 calling for a preparatory committee to explore the feasibility of an international treaty designed to protect high seas biodiversity and report back by the end of 2017.
Environmentalists applauded the outcome of last week's meeting: "We are pleased that the U.N. Preparatory Committee has completed its mandate and agreed by consensus to recommendations that will move this issue to the next phase of high seas conservation," Liz Karan, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' campaign to protect ocean life on the high seas, said in a statement.
While the Preparatory Committee's report includes substantive recommendations on elements to be included in any eventual high seas agreement, there are some crucial issues that still must be hammered out through international treaty negotiations, such as determining exactly how marine protected areas (MPAs) and marine reserves could be created and managed on the high seas.