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UN Reaches Historic Agreement On Ocean Conservation After Years Of Negotiations

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After ten years of discussions, the members of the United Nations (UN) achieved a historic agreement to safeguard the oceans on Saturday, March 4. To preserve and restore marine life, the High Seas Treaty seeks to turn 30% of the seas into protected areas by 2030.

The treaty provides a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas.

The amount of fishing allowed in these new protected areas, mentioned in the treaty, as well as the paths of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep sea mining (the removal of minerals from a sea bed 200 meters or deeper), will be restricted.

Sea mining
Sea mining

Conference chair Rena Lee declared at the UN headquarters in New York, “The ship has reached the shore,” to loud and prolonged applause from delegates.

She stated that after the agreement has been reviewed by attorneys and translated into all six of the United Nations’ official languages, it will be officially approved at a later time. Although the text’s precise wording was not immediately made public, activists hailed it as a pivotal moment for the preservation of biodiversity.

Protecting people and the environment can prevail over nationalism in a divided world, according to Laura Meller of Greenpeace Nordic. “This is a historic day for conservation,” she added. Greenpeace is an international organization that has presence in 55 countries worldwide and works for preserving nature. 

After 38 hours of negotiations, the deal was struck on Saturday night at the UN’s New York headquarters. Years of negotiations had been stalled due to divergent views on financing and fishing rights.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the most recent international accord on ocean protection, was signed in 1982, 40 years ago.

Oceans in danger

Only 1.2% of the high seas, which are international waters where all nations have the right to fish, ship, and conduct study, are currently protected. Climate change, overfishing, and shipping activity have all put marine life that exists outside of these protected regions in danger. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly 10% of marine species worldwide were found to be in danger of going extinct in the most recent evaluation. 

Environmental organizations have expressed worry that mining operations could contaminate marine life, disturb animal spawning grounds, and produce noise pollution. 

In the future, “any future activity in the deep seabed will be subject to strict environmental regulations and oversight to ensure that they are carried out sustainably and responsibly,” the International Seabed Authority, which regulates licensing, told the BBC.

The primary concern, according to Minna Epps, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Ocean team, relates to the sharing of marine genetic resources. These resources are biological components from marine plants and animals that can be used in food, industrial processes, and pharmaceuticals to help society.

marine genetic resources
Marine genetic resources

The exclusive economic zones of nations, which stretch up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from coastlines, mark the beginning of the high seas. Thus, they are outside of any nation’s purview. Despite making up nearly half of the planet’s surface and more than 60% of the world’s oceans, the high seas have long received much less attention than coastal waterways and a few iconic species.

Half of the oxygen we breathe comes from ocean environments, which also prevent global warming by absorbing most of the carbon dioxide produced by human activity.

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