seagulls flying above rough waters

Project

Protecting Ocean Life on the High Seas

Protecting Ocean Life on the High Seas
The high seas make up about two-thirds of the world’s ocean, covering the vast expanses beyond the jurisdiction of any country.

Research has shown that the high seas hold some of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on Earth, supporting abundant fisheries, providing migratory routes for whales and sharks, and harboring remarkable ecosystems such as deep-water corals and other majestic marine life.

But the high seas lack consistent and effective oversight. A patchwork of rules and regulations provides little to protect marine life from commercial activities such as fishing, oil and gas exploration, and deep-sea mining, all of which are expanding.

The designation of marine protected areas and reserves—the equivalent of national parks at sea—would be a good first step toward providing the needed protection. In an area that is part of the global commons, the challenge starts with establishing an international legal instrument to create high seas reserves.

Pew is working to meet that challenge, primarily though the United Nations, which has committed to negotiate an international treaty to protect the high seas.

Project Goals
  • To work with the United Nations and member governments to finalize text for a high seas conservation treaty by the end of 2020.
  • To ensure that the treaty provides mechanisms for establishing marine protected areas and marine reserves on the high seas, as well as a process for conducting environmental impact assessments.
  • To encourage United Nations member states to identify criteria and management proposals for potential high seas protected areas.
High seas
High seas
Issue Brief

Mapping Governance Gaps on the High Seas

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Issue Brief

A patchwork of international bodies and treaties manage ocean resources and human activity in areas beyond any state’s national jurisdiction. However, these governance bodies vary greatly in terms of their mandate, which determines their geographic scope, their objective, the legally binding nature of decisions they adopt, and whether they regulate one or several activities. The following maps help to illustrate the current governance gaps on the high seas.

Many species of invertebreates, fish, and birds utilize the Sargasso Sea.
Many species of invertebreates, fish, and birds utilize the Sargasso Sea.
Issue Brief

Underwater Treasures of the High Seas

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Issue Brief

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.

High Seas Shipping
High Seas Shipping
Issue Brief

High Seas Environmental Impact Assessments

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Issue Brief

Worldwide, scientists continue to make important discoveries about the high seas and marine depths in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), distant places that support life throughout the global ocean and are home to some of its most fascinating and valuable species. But with new and emerging activities threatening the health of these ecosystems, safeguarding their biodiversity is increasingly important. 

Loggerhead Turtle
Loggerhead Turtle
Issue Brief

Marine Protected Areas

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Issue Brief

Although we still know little about the intricate ocean ecosystems far offshore, we do know this: Once thought to be barren marine deserts, the high seas and deep ocean beneath them are teeming with life. Underwater seamounts are home to creatures found nowhere else on Earth, hydrothermal vents cradle some of the oldestorganisms on the planet, and critical migration routes help sustain species, which in turn support ecosystems and livelihoods around the world. All of this lies beyond the jurisdiction of any country and beyond the ability of any government to protect this area alone. Marine protected areas (MPAs)—and, in particular, reserves—are among the best tools that can be used to safeguard these treasures.

Our Work

The High Seas: UN Has One Chance To Get This Right
2min 37sec
High Seas Whiteboard
What Are the High Seas?
2min 56sec
High Seas
High Seas Need Protection
4min 19sec