Protecting Ocean Life on the High Seas

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The high seas make up about two-thirds of the world’s ocean. These vast expanses of water are so far from shore that they fall outside the jurisdiction of any country.

While early explorers once thought of these areas as essentially barren, thanks to research over recent decades, we now know that the high seas hold some of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on Earth. They support abundant fisheries, provide important migratory routes for whales and sharks, and brim with deep-water corals and other unique marine life.

These areas beyond national jurisdiction are rich in resources but scarce in oversight. A patchwork of rules and regulations provides little in the way of conservation safeguards to protect the greater marine ecosystem from growing commercial activities such as fishing, oil and gas exploration, and deep sea mining.

The development of marine protected areas and reserves—the equivalent of national parks at sea—would be a good first step toward providing protection. Unfortunately, the world lacks an international legal instrument to establish such areas in high seas waters. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project to protect ocean life on the high seas was launched to help change that.

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  • A Promising Start for a High Seas Treaty

    Delegates from 83 countries came together at the United Nations from March 28 to April 8 for the first in a series of landmark meetings on ocean protection. This Preparatory Committee will help forge an agreement to determine how nations move forward to protect the high seas—the 64 percent of the ocean that belongs to everyone but is governed by no one. Read More

  • U.N. Begins Process to Protect the High Seas

    For the first time, a U.N. Preparatory Committee will begin developing elements of a new international treaty to protect the biodiversity in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction, including the high seas. The countries gathering for this meeting—the first of four—have the opportunity to develop the global ocean’s most significant new protections in a generation. Read More

  • Underwater Treasures of the High Seas

    Once thought to be largely barren, the high seas are now known to be one of the planet’s largest reservoirs of biodiversity. Home to majestic whales, sharks, sea turtles, and other beloved and ecologically important species of marine life, the deep reaches of the high seas also support little-understood plants and animals as well as creatures not yet discovered. Read More

What Are the High Seas?

High Seas Whiteboard

Media Contact

Leah Weiser

Senior Associate, Communications