Expert reaction: 'Oceans treaty' agreement reached | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Expert reaction: 'Oceans treaty' agreement reached

After more than 15 years of talks and negotiations, the UN has reached an agreement to make the so-called 'Oceans Treaty' or Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Treaty) a reality. UniSC researchers Professor David Schoeman and Dr Alexandra Campbell comment.
Professor David Schoeman is a Professor in Global-Change Ecology at UniSC:


"Oceans support almost every aspect of human life, from the oxygen we breathe and the trade routes we ply, to the sense of belonging we draw from walking along our favourite beach. But our ocean waters are warmer and more acidic than they have been for thousands to millions of years, and we are making them warmer and more acidic by the day.

At the same time, our growing populations demand ever-more food from the planet’s natural ecosystems, and ever-more minerals with which to build the technological devices that have become central to our daily lives. With climate change, unsustainable fishing and deep-sea mining posing increasing threats to the oceans and the plants and animals that live in them, any news of increased protection should be welcomed, and the UN High Seas treaty is no exception.
More than two thirds of the planet is covered by ocean, and around 60% of these oceans lie in the “high seas”—waters beyond national jurisdiction. This new agreement to protect 30% of the high seas therefore really only intends to protect around one fifth of the ocean.

That’s less protection than it might initially seem, but it’s better than the 9% or so of the world’s coastal waters that are protected—and it is in these coastal waters that we have the strongest evidence of the damage we are causing.

So why not a treaty to protect 30% of ALL ocean waters? More worryingly, as with coastal waters, the UN Treaty’s version of 'protection' seems to somehow have a blind spot when it comes to damaging practices like fishing, which are not automatically excluded. Making things worse, yet, while agreement has been reached on the Treaty, it has not yet been formally adopted—and there will be plenty of political interests seeking concessions ahead of this step.

Then, finally, there is the question of enforcement—who polices waters beyond national jurisdiction, and how?
This is a good start, but we have a long way to go. As a global society, we can and must do better"

Dr Alexandra Campbell is a marine ecologist and Senior Lecturer in Bioscience, and a key member of UniSC's Seaweed Research Group.


"Protecting areas of ocean is extremely important and desperately needed, but it won’t solve any problems on its own.
At the same time, we also need to be innovating around changing the processes that are causing the damage in the first place, including global stressors that are leading to increased warming and acidification and local stressors, such as overfishing and other extractive and damaging activities."

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