An Agreement Reached on Protecting High Seas
Maanantai 6.3.2023 klo 19:32 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Worldwide agreement on the protection of open oceans was reached yesterday. In comparison to climate change and biodiversity protection negotiations, reaching an agreement was easy, and nobody expressed serious dissatisfaction. Not surprisingly, though, the negotiations even in this “easy” case took ten years. The reason for reaching an agreement is, however, not that governments would have become environmentally conscious, but because of the following fact. The open seas are ocean areas, which are not under the control of any nation. The maximal “economic zones” where different nations can restrict the use of the sea area are 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) from the coast. Beyond that point anyone from anywhere can use the resources of the sea and sea bottom. Thus, they belong to no nation state, but because more than 70 % of earth’s surface is ocean, form the majority of sea area.
Protecting the oceans is crucial in order to combat climate change and feed world’s people. It is not generally known that oceanic algae consume about half of the carbon dioxide and produce half of the oxygen in the world. Consequently, the well-being of oceans is as important for preventing global temperature rise as preventing the rain forest loss of Amazonas. Because of aquatic pollution, which should now be decreased as the result of the agreement, oceanic photosynthesis has probably decreased by 10-15 %. People have not really cared about what happens to the open oceans before the huge plastic gyres have caught everyone’s eye. It is clear that not only plastic waste but all sorts of chemicals, including oil components are something that sea organisms encounter all the time. To my mind it is probable that the marked decrease in eel stocks, which has occurred in the last 50 years, is to a large extent caused by oceanic pollution. Because of the very strenuous spawning migration, even slight pollution can overstress the eels so that spawning becomes ineffective.
At present, less than 1 % of the oceans is protected. The agreement states that by 2030 30 % of the high seas would be protected. This would enable many overfished species to recover. However, even though the actual protection of the seas is important, it is even more important that the pollutant discharge to oceans is diminished. Only that can help the high seas to stay healthy or recover.