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.

Our Work

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  • Governments Start Formal Talks on High Seas Treaty

    After more than 10 years of debate and discussion, the United Nations is meeting this week to launch an intergovernmental conference to negotiate a treaty on global protections for critical marine biodiversity on the high seas. In late December, in a landmark moment for the oceans, U.N. member governments agreed by consensus to move forward with four negotiating sessions by mid-2020. Read More

  • Pew Applauds UN Action to Protect the High Seas

    NEW YORK—The Pew Charitable Trusts praised the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption today, by consensus, of a resolution to launch an intergovernmental conference to negotiate an international treaty that will protect the high seas. Read More

  • Our Ocean

    This collection of Pew resources covers a range of ocean issues. Among the topics are efforts to end illegal fishing; to encourage creation of large, fully protected marine reserves around the world, including international waters; and to improve the international management of tuna species. Read More

High Seas Need Protection

High Seas

What Are the High Seas?

High Seas Whiteboard

Media Contact

Leah Weiser

Officer, Communications