BBNJ treaty – reflections on the historic agreement

BBNJ treaty – reflections on the historic agreement

To manage new MPAs in international waters, we will need to apply all the existing knowledge acquired from MPA management in jurisdictional waters

The landmark ‘high seas treaty’ agreed on 5 March represents a major advance in global ocean governance as it creates the framework needed to improve ocean biodiversity protection worldwide. The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty creates a legal framework for the high seas, which until now have been largely lawless, and paves the way for the creation of vast marine protected areas (MPAs) outside national waters.

It is often observed that the biggest challenge with MPAs is not in creating them but in ensuring they are effectively managed. Our project is based on the knowledge that networks of MPA managers are ideally placed to share knowledge, tools and experience and thus improve effective management.

Another wise observation holds that the best way that humans can support ecological connectivity is to work between ourselves to this end. Ecological networks would be just fine if only humans could work together to protect and restore ecosystems. MPAs and MPA managers networks are also key in this regard.

Learn from our experience

Our experience – and that of our partners – has shown the benefits of human networking for the benefit of ocean biodiversity conservation. By supporting capacity-building of regional and national MPA manager networks, the EU Ocean Governance project has enabled our partners to boost management effectiveness. This will be instructive for the future implementation of high seas MPAs.

Our project was also designed in part to overcome barriers that exist between countries, whether these are political, economic or cultural. By creating a platform for states and territories in the Atlantic, in South-East Asia and beyond to meet at a technical level to address MPA management, the project builds learning and understanding at a level where it can have immediate impact on the ground. This experience may also be useful for countries as they work together to implement the BBNJ treaty.

A significant achievement

The treaty is a fine cause to celebrate, the result of over 10 years’ international diplomacy and 2 weeks of intense negotiations leading to the agreement at the UN headquarters in New York last Sunday. As the high seas cover 60% of the ocean by surface (and nearly half the planet), the treaty will make it much easier to achieve the commitment to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, agreed in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Agreement (2022). It will enter into force once it has been ratified by 60 states.

The contribution of the EU to the achievement should not be underestimated. The EU supported the adoption of the treaty through leading the ‘High Ambition Coalition’, and has pledged to support rapid ratification and help developing countries prepare for its implementation, pledging EUR 40 million as part of a Global Ocean Programme, and calling on other members of the High Ambition Coalition to do the same.

Press release: the Ocean Governance project is at IMPAC5

3 February 2023 — From 3-9 February 2023, the Ocean Governance project is at the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver, Canada. Partners from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe will take part in official sessions to share the project’s approach to learning and knowledge-sharing for improved MPA management.

Official congress sessions

The congress, which aims to improve the management of marine environments, is closely aligned to the project’s own aims: to build dialogue, international cooperation and boost capacity of MPA managers and managers’ networks, for improved conservation outcomes. It follows the adoption in December of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed by Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which includes a target to protect 30% of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, inland waters by 2030.

“The Ocean Governance project has come to IMPAC5 to share with key MPA actors from around the world the strength of our project and the value of connecting MPA managers, networks and key players in the field with policies at national, regional and global levels. We will share the project’s methodology and approach and show how it is a relevant tool to achieve the 30 by 30 target,” said Puri Canals, project team leader.

From Saturday 4 February to Wednesday 8 February, Ocean Governance project participants will take part in one to three events per day, presenting the project’s activities, from ecosystem restoration at sites in the Coral Triangle in South-East Asia, tools for MPA managers on marine mammals and coastal and marine resilience, and strengthening networks of MPA managers.

Meetings and presentations in the exhibition hall at stand 412

As well as contributing to the official congress programme, the project will have a constant presence at a stand (no. 412) in the exhibition space, showcasing the project through talks and projections and providing a space for small meetings. A programme of presentations at the stand will cover specific activities, such as mangrove restoration, activity with indigenous communities and the recent effectiveness of MPA managers’ networks desk study.

As well as reaching out to the global audience, the congress offers a valuable opportunity for partners in the Marine Mammals, Resilience and MPA networks twinning partnerships to meet in person and exchange their experiences, one of the project’s key objectives and a welcome change after three years of largely virtual meetings.

The congress, which is normally held every 4 years, is organised jointly by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the host nation, this year Canada. The last event (IMPAC4) was in Chile in 2017 after which the COVID-19 pandemic forced the delay of IMPAC5. The Ocean Governance team will make the most of the opportunity of the congress to network with previous and potential collaborators.

About the Ocean Governance Project

The European Commission initiated the Ocean Governance project to contribute to European Union (EU) objectives on international ocean governance and to the delivery of EU global commitments regarding sustainable development, climate change and biodiversity protection. The EU is committed to take action on international ocean governance to ensure safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans. In an action funded by the EU Partnership Instrument, the project is implemented by a consortium of partners including GOPA International Consultants, B&S Europe and WWF Indonesia. The purposes of the project are: – to advance a process leading to enhanced cooperation of MPAs in and between the Atlantic and South-East Asian regions. – to support the implementation of marine and coastal ecosystem restoration activity in the South-East Asian region. – to facilitate broader regional cooperation on marine and coastal resilience in the South-East Asian region with a view to underpin regional stability. – to contribute to the effective management of MPAs in the Atlantic and South-East Asian regions.

Programme of OG project events at IMPAC5 
For more information during IMPAC5, contact Katharine Mill,, tel +44 7762 121495.

Moving forward with resilience to rapid changes

Senegal in West Africa is especially dynamic both in terms of coastal resilience development and creating marine protected areas, six of which been set up in the last two years. The Ocean Governance project’s Resilience Partnership has also in recent years developed a close collaboration with its Directorate of Community Marine Protected Areas to ensure the implementation of the Resilience Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT) across these marine protected areas. It was therefore a natural choice as the location for the annual workshop of the Resilience Partnership, which took place on 3rd-5th May 2022 in Saly, hosted by the National Directorate of Community Marine Protected Areas (DAMCP).

At the workshop, the 14 participants reviewed the annual workplan, shared experiences from their regions and considered future opportunities. They discussed challenges and opportunities regarding the development of new tools and the expansion of R-SAT to the many other MPAs interested in applying it. The meeting was also the occasion to discuss the need to train trainers on R-SAT implementation to develop the directorate’s autonomy in applying the tool in the future. During a field visit, they had the opportunity to meet MPA managers in Senegal who have used the toolkit to evaluate MPA resilience capacities.

About the Resilience Partnership


The Resilience Partnership was developed as a twinning project between MPA managers around the Atlantic basin from 2016. Its objective is to share experiences, tools and approaches regarding management strategies to cope with rapidly changing environments, and the contribution of MPAs to the resilience of coastal areas. The lead partners are situated in Gabon, Senegal, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico and USA. A work programme has also been set up with the West African MPA network (RAMPAO/WAMPAN) and with Senegal’s DAMCP.


Field visit provides chance to meet local users of R-SAT tool


During a field visit to Joal Fadiouth – comprising the important fishing town of Joal and the connected clam-shell island of Fadiouth – the visitors met fishers to view catch sizes, visited mangrove restoration works and discussed MPA managers’ experience of using the R-SAT tool.

“All participants could see that the feedback from these managers was particularly positive, especially as the recommendations from the assessment started to be implemented in the months following the assessment, and have already produced some of the results that were expected. The managers highlighted the easy use of R-SAT, and all the benefits that can be derived from the self-assessment process beyond the direct results of the tool,” noted the workshop report.

The meeting outcomes and recommendations – which focused on how to enhance the R-SAT tool and provide more support to its users – will feed in to an update of the partnership’s action plan.


Senegal’s system of marine protected areas, developed since 1999, currently includes 15 MPAs, covering a total area of 582,523 ha, and protecting 137 km of the country’s 700 km coastline. All the protected areas have a management plan.