High Seas Treaty

High Seas Treaty

High Seas

Two thirds of the world’s oceans do not belong to any nation, and these areas of the planet have been open to exploitation from all and sundry.

For ten years the United Nations member states have been attempting to agree on a treaty to protect the high seas and on Saturday 5th March, they came to an agreement.

Conference president Rena Lee, from Singapore, emotionally announced that the, ‘ship has reached the shore’. Two whole days, working through the night, an exhausted audience stood up and clapped. 

The previous treaty was signed in 1982 called the UN Convention of the Sea.

The UN biodiversity conference in December, pledged to protect a third of the sea and land by 2030. Without this High seas treaty, the pledge would have been unachievable.

the treaty will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against the loss of wildlife and share out the genetic resources of the high seas. It will establish a conference of the parties (Cop) that will meet periodically and enable member states to be held to account on issues such as governance and biodiversity.

Ocean ecosystems produce half the oxygen we breathe, represent 95% of the planet’s biosphere and soak up carbon dioxide, as the world’s largest carbon sink. Yet until now, fragmented and loosely enforced rules governing the high seas have rendered this area more susceptible than coastal waters to exploitation.

These new protected areas, established in the treaty, will put limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep sea mining – when minerals are taken from a sea bed 200m or more below the surface.

The International Seabed Authority that oversees licensing told the BBC that moving forward “any future activity in the deep seabed will be subject to strict environmental regulations and oversight to ensure that they are carried out sustainably and responsibly”.


Countries will need to meet again to formally adopt the agreement and then have plenty of work to do before the treaty can be implemented.

The plan in detail

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