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High seas treaty

High seas treaty

Shashank Sachi 5

High seas treaty

Historic deal to protect international waters finally reached at UN

Successful Conclusion of Negotiations Under Singapore's Presidency on a New United Nations Agreement on Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

The BBNJ Agreement is the culmination of discussions that began in 2004 under the auspices of the United Nations to enhance the international legal regime concerning the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the oceans beyond the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of states. Despite being extremely biodiverse, only 1% of the high seas is currently regulated. The BBNJ Agreement is therefore a major step forward in contributing to the governance of the global commons.

Nearly 200 countries have agreed to a legally-binding “high seas treaty” to protect marine life in international waters, which cover around half of the planet’s surface, but have long been essentially lawless.

The treaty provides legal tools to establish and manage marine protected areas – sanctuaries to protect the ocean’s biodiversity. It also covers environmental assessments to evaluate the potential damage of commercial activities, such as deep sea mining, before they start and a pledge by signatories to share ocean resources.

What are the high seas?


Two-thirds of the world's oceans are currently considered international waters.

That means all countries have a right to fish, ship and do research there.

But until now only about 1% of these waters - known as high seas - have been protected.

This leaves the marine life living in the vast majority of the high seas at risk of exploitation from threats including climate change, overfishing and shipping traffic.

The IUCN estimates that 41% of the threatened species are also affected by climate change.


Other key measures include:

  • Arrangements for sharing marine genetic resources, such as biological material from plants and animals in the ocean. These can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals and food
  • Requirements for environmental assessments for deep sea activities like mining