Analysis

The High Seas Need Our Help

New animation illustrates how ocean biodiversity could be protected

Walking along the beach is a favorite pastime for many, and vacationers, residents of coastal communities, and those depending on the ocean for jobs and food can all appreciate the beauty of waves crashing along the coast. But most people will never travel beyond the 200 nautical miles that make up a country’s territorial waters to experience the rest of the ocean, the vast area known as the high seas.

The high seas make up 64 percent of the world’s ocean and are known as areas beyond national jurisdiction—no one country controls the activities that take place there. Unfortunately, this also means that there is no overarching management structure for human activities such as fishing, mining, oil and gas exploration, or any other possible activities. This patchwork system has put much of the world’s marine biodiversity at risk.

There is good news however: The United Nations has agreed to begin negotiations on a new international treaty that could protect the high seas and create a cohesive management system for this broad swath of ocean. The treaty could also allow for marine reserves on the high seas, which could fully protect special places of immense environmental value.

To help detail the issue, Pew has released a short whiteboard animation explaining the current structure of high seas governance and what we hope can be achieved through a new international agreement.

Get the facts about the high seas—the two-thirds of our world’s oceans that are not under any country's jurisdiction. This quick whiteboard tutorial explains why these international waters are so important and how the United Nations can help protect high seas marine life and ocean resources.

The U.N. will hold the first meeting about the treaty March 28 to April 8. We hope it will be a new beginning for high seas management.

Elizabeth Wilson directs Pew’s international ocean policy.

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