BY APB Staff on 15 Sep 2022

International waters represent nearly two-thirds of the world's oceans, but only 1.2 per cent of this area is protected

Talks to attempt to pass the UN High Seas Treaty for the fifth time have failed, after world leaders said they could not agree on terms of the treaty.

It had been hoped the global agreement would help to protect the oceans and the marine life in the “high seas” — an area in international waters where all countries have the right to fish, conduct research and shipping.

The last time a global agreement on ocean protection was signed was 1982 — an occasion that resulted in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established the ‘high seas’ region.

However, the governments who gathered in New York last month failed to make a new agreement. In total, 168 members of the original treaty, including the EU, came together to try and make a new agreement during talks that lasted two weeks. 

Only 1.2 per cent of international waters are currently protected, meaning all marine life living outside of these areas are subject to threats such as overfishing, shipping traffic, climate change and pollution. 

A dead shark in a gill net

A dead shark in a gill net

Speaking to the BBC, Kristina Gjerde, IUCN’s Senior High Seas Advisor explained that the treat was so important because: “The high seas are the vital blue heart of the planet. What happens on the high seas affects our coastal communities, affects our fisheries, affects our biodiversity – things we all care so much about.”

The updated IUCN Red List of threatened species revealed four in ten sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction. Of all chondrichthyan fish groups, rays (the flatter, close relatives of sharks) are the most threatened overall, with 41 per cent of all assessed ray species deemed to be threatened.

The decline is due to pressures caused by continued overfishing for valuable meat and fins, pollution and climate change. Up to 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year, with some populations declining by 95 per cent due to overfishing.

It’s not confirmed when the talks will resume for the sixth attempt at a High Seas Treaty, but a deadline has been set for the end of this year.