Ocean Treaty: Historic Agreement Reached After Decade of Negotiations

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The countries have reached a historic agreement to protect the world’s oceans after 10 years of negotiations.

The High Seas Treaty placed 30% of the seas in protected areas by 2030 to protect and restore marine nature.

The agreement was reached on Saturday night after 38 hours of negotiations at the UN headquarters in New York.

Negotiations dragged on for years due to disagreements over funding and fishing rights.

The last international agreement on ocean protection was signed 40 years ago in 1982 – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

That agreement established an area called the high seas — international waters where all countries have the right to fish, navigate and conduct research — but only 1.2 percent of those waters are protected.

Marine life outside these protected areas is threatened by climate change, overfishing and shipping.

According to the latest assessment of global marine species, nearly 10% are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

These new protected areas, established in the treaty, will place limits on fishing, shipping routes and exploration, such as deep-sea mining, where minerals are extracted from the seabed at a depth of 200 meters or more.

Environmental groups are concerned that mining processes could disturb animal breeding grounds, create noise pollution and be toxic to marine life.

The International Seabed Authority, which oversees licensing, told the BBC that going forward “any future deep seabed activity will be subject to strict environmental regulations and oversight to ensure it is carried out in a sustainable and responsible manner”.

image captionMarine protected areas can help species such as the whale shark – the largest living fish – recover

Rena Lee, the UN ambassador for oceans, put down the hammer after two weeks of talks that at times threatened to break down.

Minna Epps, director of the IUCN Ocean Group, said the main challenge was the sharing of marine genetic resources.

Marine genetic resources are the biological material of the ocean’s plants and animals that can benefit society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food.

Richer countries currently have the resources and funding to explore the deep ocean, but poorer countries want whatever benefits they find to be shared equally.

An image of a tube sponge and other corals underwater
image captionSea sponges provide key ingredients to treat HIV and cancer

Dr. Robert Blaziak, an ocean researcher at Stockholm University, said the problem is that no one knows how much ocean resources are worth, and therefore how they can be shared.

He said: “If you imagine a big widescreen high-definition TV, and if you only have three or four pixels working on that giant screen, that would be our knowledge of the depths of the ocean. So we’ve recorded about 230,000 species in the ocean, but it’s estimated that there are over two million.”

Laura Møller, ocean campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic, praised the countries for “putting their differences aside and signing an agreement that will allow us to protect our oceans, increase our resilience to climate change and protect the lives and livelihoods of billions of people”.

“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can trump geopolitics,” she added.

The countries will have to meet again to formally accept the agreement, and then there is much more work to be done before the agreement can be implemented.

Liz Karan, director of ocean stewardship group the Pews Trust, told the BBC: “It will take some time to take effect. Countries must ratify it [юридично ухвалити]for it to enter into force. Then there are many institutional bodies, such as the Scientific and Technical Committee, which must be established.”

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