Many questions remain on the effectiveness of high seas sanctions

A sea turtle swims off the coast of Lebanon’s northern city of Batroun.

A groundbreaking global treaty on the high seas is set to establish sanctuaries that are essential for the well-being of our oceans. However, many questions regarding the protection of marine areas far from the coast remain unanswered. Where will these areas be created, and when?

Preserving Unique and Fragile Areas

The United Nations will adopt a text on Monday that will pave the way for the creation of marine protected areas in international waters. These areas will be designated in regions that are unique, fragile, or important for endangered species.

Prioritizing biodiversity is crucial, but according to Minna Epps of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), other factors such as “ecological functions” in areas that support plankton blooms should also be considered.

For instance, off the coast of Costa Rica, a “thermal dome” emerges each year, resulting in an algae bloom. This bloom creates favorable conditions for blue whales and forms the basis of a food chain.

Liz Karan of the Pew Charitable Trusts emphasizes the importance of establishing a “network” of protected areas that can serve as migratory corridors for different species.

This network should ideally connect high seas marine protected areas with existing protected areas in national waters near coasts.

Scientists and NGOs have already identified several potential marine areas that meet these criteria, including the Emperor seamounts in the Pacific, the “lost city” in the Atlantic with its hydrothermal vents, and the Sargasso Sea.

The Nazca and Salas y Gomez ridges off the coast of Chile are also notable and may become one of the first sanctuaries established under the new treaty.

Timeline for Creation

The establishment of these sanctuaries will not happen for several years.

Glen Wright, a researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), predicts that it may take five or six years for the sanctuaries to be created, while Epps believes we won’t see any before 2027.

Once the treaty is adopted, it must be signed and ratified by 60 countries for it to come into force and enable the Conference of the Parties (COP) to convene.

The COP will have the authority to create sanctuaries based on proposals from one or more states. Currently, NGOs primarily propose such protected areas.

Chile is the only country that has mentioned a formal project for the Nazca and Salas y Gomez ridges.

Achieving the 30×30 Goal

Although it will take time to establish the sanctuaries, the treaty is crucial for achieving the global goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.

Jessica Battle of the conservation group WWF emphasizes that without the treaty, the 30×30 goal will not be attainable.

However, given the tight timeline, the treaty’s contribution to 30×30 may be limited, warns Glen Wright.

Types of Protection

When it comes to reserves, the level of protection afforded to them can vary on land and at sea.

Glen Wright suggests that large strictly protected areas may be challenging to establish on the high seas. It may be more feasible to create smaller areas with maximum restrictions, including total bans on certain activities, as well as areas with limited measures that could be seasonally enforced to protect breeding or migrating species.

Monitoring and Enforcement

Enforcement in the vastness of the oceans is a significant challenge, and experts propose using technology, including satellites, to monitor protected areas.

Jessica Battle emphasizes that the remoteness of the high seas makes it difficult for unauthorized activities to go unnoticed. Tracking vessels through transmitters can aid monitoring efforts.

A monitoring mechanism similar to the one used for global fishing could be implemented to detect unauthorized activity. However, financing such surveillance and ensuring compliance with the rules remain important considerations.

Under the treaty, states are responsible for the actions of vessels flying their flags on the high seas. However, to have jurisdiction, the state must be a signatory to the treaty.

The text of the treaty also includes a “compliance” mechanism, although its exact nature is yet to be determined.

Jessica Battle explains that if a state is found to be flagging a vessel that is behaving in breach of regulations within a Marine Protected Area, it can be brought to the attention of the COP. However, countries generally prefer not to face international criticism.

© 2023 AFP

Much still pending on how high seas sanctions will work (2023, June 19)
retrieved 19 June 2023

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