The High Seas Treaty: a step forward for marine conservation
After decades of deliberation, UN member states reach an agreement—commonly known as the High Seas Treaty—focusing on protecting marine species within international waters.

On March 4, 2023, at the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction in New York, members of the United Nations reached an agreement—widely referred to as the High Seas Treaty—that outlined initiatives for protecting marine areas outside of countries’ territorial waters. This comes three months after the December 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference held in Montreal, where a goal was set to protect 30 per cent of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030. 

In an interview with The Medium, Andrea Olive, a professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Geography, Geomatics, and Environment at the University of Toronto Mississauga, says this treaty demonstrates that “despite all our disagreements, the global community can come together and cooperate.” Given that such an agreement has been in the works for nearly two decades, the agreement’s finalization comes as a monumental step forward in regards to global conservation efforts. “[To] have something formal passed through the international process is remarkable progress,” contends Professor Olive.

As stated in a CNN article, this treaty is set to create “marine protected areas in international waters,” which is significant given that only approximately one per cent of international waters are currently protected. Such areas are home to a plethora of marine species. Further regulation of activities such as fishing and deep-sea mining is essential to the protection of wildlife and biodiversity.

However, there remains the matter of countries signing and ratifying this agreement. Professor Olive points out that Canada is “a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which predated [the High Seas Treaty],” thus making it likely that the country will sign the agreement. 

Notably, Canada is also home to many Indigenous Peoples, bringing to question how the High Seas Treaty will impact such communities. Professor Olive explains that “How [the High Seas Treaty] will impact them should be up to them. It will create opportunities for new marine protected areas including, presumably, Indigenous Marine Protected Areas.” However, she believes that it is too early to predict the effects of the agreement, as Canada has yet to sign or ratify it.

Furthermore, there is also the question of whether the treaty will adequately protect oceans at large, and whether further action is necessary for substantial ocean protection. “The issue will always be monitoring and enforcement,” says Professor Olive. “The ocean is a big place, and it will be hard to monitor [overfishing and transport ships]. Every country with a coastline and continental shelf will still need to do its best to protect 30 per cent of its own territory.” 

While the High Seas Treaty is a noteworthy advancement in the fight against marine biodiversity loss, its effects on an international scale are still up for speculation.


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