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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.
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Pew Joins Scientists’ Call to Protect the High Seas, and Ensure Sustainable and Equitable Use of Marine Resources
Pew Joins Scientists’ Call to Protect the High Seas, and Ensure Sustainable and Equitable Use of Marine Resources
Speeches & Testimony

Pew Joins Scientists' Call to Protect the High Seas

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Speeches & Testimony

Nichola Clark, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ protecting ocean life on the high seas project, co-authored a letter published in Science on June 4, 2021, that sets out key priorities for negotiations on an international treaty to safeguard biodiverse waters beyond any nation’s jurisdiction.

Flags fly outside the General Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters.
Flags fly outside the General Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters.

Global Voices Seek to Protect Life in International Waters

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Making up roughly two-thirds of the ocean and covering nearly half of the planet’s surface, the high seas support abundant fisheries, serve as migratory routes for whales and sharks, and harbor remarkable ecosystems such as deep-water corals and other majestic marine life.

Lancet fish
Mesopelagic fishes
Issue Brief

High Seas Treaty Must Reflect Critical Role of Fish in Ecosystems

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Issue Brief

Members of the United Nations are negotiating a treaty that would enable the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), including the international waters known as the high seas.

Our Work

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High Seas Treaty Would Bring Needed Protection

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What Are the High Seas?

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High Seas: U.N. Has One Chance To Get it Right