Hope for the High Seas

The ocean beyond national jurisdiction, known as the high seas, constitutes 70% of the ocean and covers nearly half the planet. Poorly regulated and enforced, this area is home to an immense diversity of life that is increasingly threatened by industrial fishing, shipping, mining, noise and chemical pollution. Looming above all of these are the twin threats related to escalating CO2 emissions—ocean warming and acidification. 

Because the high seas are international waters, international cooperation is required to manage and protect them. After a decade of advocacy by NRDC and our small but mighty coalition, the High Seas Alliance, negotiations to strengthen the conservation and management of high seas biodiversity finally began two weeks ago at the United Nations here in New York.  

Despite all the work and intelligence gathering that goes into preparing for negotiations like this, one goes into them never quite sure how they will turn out. I can say that the talks, which ended Friday, exceeded my expectations and left me filled with hope. The positive tone of the meeting (which contrasted sharply with previous meetings), the participation of a whole new slew of countries in serious and substantive debates, and the expert leadership of the Chairman (Ambassador Eden Charles of Trinidad and Tobago) resulted in a far more detailed and substantive discussion of the issues than had occurred at any time in the past. Important shifts in the position of a number of key countries, including the United States, gave major impetus to the talks and created an atmosphere of cooperation unlike any we have seen to date.

Of course it is just the start, and we have a ton of work to do. But it was a good start, a solid beginning, and I am hopeful for the future. 

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