A new international treaty paves the way toward establishing large marine protected areas and setting global standards for environmental impacts on our oceans.
The treaty would also regulate countries and companies that commercialize marine resources for pharmaceuticals or cosmetics and make research conducted in international waters more inclusive. Southwest Florida’s waterways, for instance, are plagued by chemical and plastic pollution, overfishing and deep-sea mining. When it comes to international waters, there’s practically no oversight.
“Internationally, we do not have a single treaty that protects the high seas,” said Jennifer Jones, director of the Center for Environment and Society at Florida Gulf Coast University. “And when we talk about high seas, we mean those that are beyond the coastlines and territorial boundaries of countries.”
Jones likens these places to the Wild West, the last true aquatic wilderness.
“You think about the high seas… it’s two-thirds of our ocean—only one tiny percent of that is protected,” Jones said. “And the high seas, they provide food, they provide oxygen, they provide climate regulation.”
The new treaty aims to protect 30% of our ocean resources by 2030. Think of the high seas as the world’s common space; we all share it. The better the health of the water and sea life, the better the health of the environment within our coastlines.
“Without some sort of protection of these high seas, we are not safe,” Jones said. “Our turtles are not safe. Many of our fish are not safe. Our waters, in general, are not protected and sustainable for the long term.”
But once countries formally adopt the agreement, work can begin to protect all the world’s oceans.
The treaty has been in the works for about two decades. To give a better of where international waters are located: They are around 200 nautical miles off the coast of a country, roughly the distance from Fort Myers to Gainesville.