We urgently need protection for our oceans.

I am back in New York, getting ready to spend another long week in the dark corridors of the UN headquarters. I might be far from the deep ocean blue but, as a friend here said, the wailing of the sirens of NYPD cars sound ironically appropriate: our oceans are one of the largest crime scenes of the planet.

The depletion of our oceans is a textbook example of what happens when exploitation is given a green light long before the conservation and sustainability concerns have been addressed. A recent scientific study featured in The Guardian  reveals that exploitation of the oceans has had more devastating effects than previously estimated. Human activities, such as excessive and destructive fishing, deep sea mining, oil and gas extraction and marine litter, coupled with the impacts of climate change, have had a profound effect on deep-sea habitats, resulting in biodiversity loss and the loss of goods and services provided by these ecosystems. The study also explains how human activities multiply the effect of a single activity on the oceans and tells us that ecosystems such as cold-water corals, canyons and seamount communities will be in even higher risk in the future.

It is sometimes hard to believe that while we have global (and many regional) agreements on how to carve up the exploitation of fish and mineral resources, there are still no rules when it comes to specifying the responsibility of states and industry on the conservation of marine biological diversity, on the establishment of no-take areas and the conduct of environmental impact assessments prior to exploitation. If you want to fish, drill or mine the global commons there is a place to go and a process to follow. But if you want to protect the commons, things get – conveniently - complex and vague. The result is that while 40% is needed to be set aside as no take marine reserves to let the oceans recover, less than 1% of the high seas is protected.  The commitment of our governments to establish a network of marine protected areas in our oceans and seas expires in 2012 with very little to show for.

In May the UN biodiversity working group made a breakthrough after years of informal talk by agreeing to recommend to the UN General Assembly to kick-start a process in 2012 to fill these legal gaps. It is absolutely necessary that countries adopt a Biodiversity Agreement under the UN Law of the Sea Convention (the Oceans constitution) that will spell out the binding obligation and the tools to protect biodiversity in the high seas. It is promising that the G77 countries recently called for such agreement in a Ministerial Declaration. The EU countries have also been supportive. The few countries still in opposition include the US, Norway, Iceland and Russia.

So the question this, will States act collectively to the will of the majority to protect biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction? Will we see in the UN Oceans Resolution a commitment of our governments to stop the crime and protect marine life in the vast and deep areas of our oceans? 

While I am here delivering the message of the crisis to our governments, my colleagues in Greenpeace are out there bearing witness and taking action to defend our oceans and deliver our Emergency Oceans Rescue Plan. Over the years Greenpeace has exposed the oceans plunder and has provided indisputable evidence of the devastating impacts on deep sea marine ecosystems.


Sofia is a senior policy advisor working on oceans policy for Greenpeace International and currently in New York, keeping a watchful eye on the UN meetings on Oceans law.