- By Esme Stallard
- Climate and Science Correspondent, BBC News
After 10 years of negotiations, countries have reached a historic agreement to protect the world’s oceans.
The High Seas Agreement calls for 30% of oceans to become protected areas by 2030, which aims to protect and restore marine nature.
The agreement was reached on Saturday evening after 38 hours of negotiations at UN headquarters in New York.
Negotiations have been dogged for years by disagreements over funding and fishing rights.
The last international treaty on maritime security was signed 40 years ago in 1982 – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
That treaty established an area known as the high seas — where all countries have the right to fish, ship and research — but only 1.2% of these waters are protected.
Marine species living outside these protected areas are threatened by climate change, overfishing and shipping.
These new protected areas established in the treaty will impose limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes and exploratory activities such as deep-sea mining – when minerals are extracted from an ocean floor of 200m or more.
Environmental groups are concerned Mining processes can disturb animal breeding grounds, create noise pollution and be toxic to marine life.
The International Maritime Commission, which oversees licensing, told the BBC that “any future operations in the deep sea will be subject to strict environmental regulations and oversight to ensure they are carried out sustainably and responsibly”.
UN for Oceans Ambassador Rena Lee threatened to disengage at times after two weeks of negotiations.
Minna Epps, director of the IUCN Ocean Group, said sharing marine genetic resources was a key issue.
Marine genetic resources are the biological material of plants and animals in the ocean that can provide benefits to society, such as medicines, industrial processes and food.
Rich countries currently have the resources and funding to explore the deep sea, but poor countries want to ensure that any benefits they find are shared equally.
Dr Robert Plasiak, a marine researcher at Stockholm University, says that no one knows how much marine resources are worth, so the challenge is how they can be divided.
He said: “If you imagine a big, high-definition, widescreen TV, three or four pixels on that giant screen working, that’s our knowledge of the deep sea. So we’ve recorded about 230,000 species in the ocean, but it’s estimated that there are more than two million. .”
Greenpeace Nordic’s oceans campaigner Laura Meller praised countries for “putting aside differences and delivering an agreement that allows us to protect oceans, build 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, geopolitics can be won by protecting nature and people,” he added.
Before the countries have to meet again to adopt the agreement, there is a lot of work to be done before the agreement can be implemented.
Liz Curran, director of the Pews Trust’s ocean governance committee, told the BBC: “It will take some time to come into force. Countries will have to agree to it. [legally adopt it] To strengthen it. Then several institutional bodies like the Science and Technology Committee should be set up.”