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.