Conservation and sustainable use of high-seas biodiversity: steps towards global agreement
Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) cover approximately 50% of the earth’s surface, host a major share of the world’s biodiversity and play a central role in supporting biodiversity and ecosystems across the planet. These areas include both the high-seas water column and the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction (the Area). The spectrum of threats to marine resources and biodiversity from established and emerging human uses in these vast areas of the ocean beyond the 200 nautical mile limits of coastal state jurisdiction is steadily increasing (Scheiber 2011, 65–66). The deep sea fishing industry is now supported by a battery of technological innovations including global positioning systems, multi-beam sonar and more powerful cables and winches. Fishing nets and lines are composed of virtually indestructible synthetic material and may be laid in huge swathes across the ocean trapping non target species such as turtles, seabirds and cetaceans. Heavy bottom trawling gear has already caused substantial damage to fragile high-seas ecosystems (Scheiber 2011, 86). Seaborne trade and passenger traffic is rapidly expanding and is expected to double over the next two decades (Scheiber 2011, 87–90). The risks to high-seas marine resources and biodiversity from intentional and accidental discharges of oil and other hazardous substances, noise and ship strikes will rise commensurately (Scheiber 2011, 91–92). Beyond these existing threats, emerging uses of the high seas such as bio-prospecting for marine genetic resources, deep seabed mining and marine geo-engineering activities to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change all have the potential to harm the highly interconnected and sensitive ecosystems of the high seas if not carefully managed now and into the future.