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Gray whale © Tim Stenton
Leaping harbour porpoise

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UN adopts High Seas Treaty to protect the ocean

At the UN 'High Seas Treaty' negotiations in New York, a historic vote for the protection of the ocean took place at the weekend.

After two weeks of intensive talks, the UN member states have agreed on the final text of a High Seas Treaty.

Most of the world's oceans are international waters. These so-called 'high seas' areas lie beyond the exclusive economic zones of countries and are further than 370 kilometres (230 miles) from the nearest coast. Until now, the high seas have been a largely lawless, barely protected space.

In December 2022, the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Montréal agreed that at least 30 per cent of the high seas should be protected by 2030. However, without a binding agreement to protect the high seas, the chances of implementation were poor.

'After almost 20 years, the United Nations has finally agreed on a high seas treaty. The importance of this agreement cannot be overstated, because without this decision it would be impossible to effectively implement the 30x30 targets,' explains Ed Goodall, who manages the Green Whale Programme at WDC.

The new agreement introduces environmental impact assessments for all activities on the high seas, as well as compensation for the use of marine resources. Member states also commit to extensive reporting, which will increase transparency and accountability of actions and compliance. The new agreement also stipulates that in future there will be an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) in which concrete measures for the protection and sustainable use of the high seas and the deep sea will be negotiated and decided.

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About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.