‘High Seas Treaty’ advances protection for largest habitat on Earth

The word ‘historic’ is often used for events that don’t necessarily live up to the gravity of the word, but this isn’t one of those moments.

This weekend, 20 years of work from scientists, environmentalists, and champion countries culminated in a United Nations agreement on a treaty to protect the high seas.

“There’s no exaggerating it—this is a truly historic moment that will bring ocean protection into the 21st century and ensure greater transparency around human activities in this important ocean habitat,” says Matt Abbott, director of marine conservation.  

“If implemented, this treaty will improve sustainable management of fisheries, shipping and other activities causing serious damage to ocean health.” 

The ‘high seas’ refers to the enormous area of the ocean which does not fall within any country’s jurisdiction. The high seas are home to millions of species yet existing treaties only protect one per cent of it. 

The treaty framework agreed upon at the UN on Saturday, March 4, will provide a pathway to establish marine protected areas in the high seas and limit activities that destroy habitat and drive biodiversity loss.

Our friends at Oceans North were in New York to help see the at-times gruelling, two week negotiations through. Susanna Fuller, vice president of operations, says the treaty will be legally-binding once it’s in force, a process that will likely take three years.

“If implemented, this treaty marks a major win for marine species and ecosystems,” Fuller said in a release, adding that the treaty “gives us the tools to protect our ocean in a way that benefits everyone.”

The treaty is also being praised as a key tool to help deliver the new global target of protecting at least 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030, recently agreed upon at NatureCOP in Montreal. 

While celebrating a momentous step toward greater ocean protection, Abbott says its important the high seas treaty also sets the tone for future discussions around ocean activities.

The upcoming meeting of the International Seabed Authority, where countries will discuss the future of deep sea mining, for example, should feature biodiversity protection at the core of the talks.

Scroll to Top