Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) are necessary to help manage the main threats facing marine life in the high seas, according to a report published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management.
The high seas cover over 60% of the ocean and are governed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea because they are beyond national jurisdiction.
Researchers at the University of York found that the key threats to marine life in international waters come from climate change, land-based pollution, fishing, shipping and mineral mining.
Individual sectors, such as the fishing and mining industries, currently have an individual responsibility to protect the high seas, but according to the authors of the report, these organisations have so far largely failed to protect marine life.
The authors have said that going forward MPA’s are the only effective option to mitigate the impacts from fishing, shipping and mining and that if done properly they can also partially reduce the impacts of climate change.
Over the past two years, countries have gathered at the UN Headquarters to negotiate the terms of a new high seas treaty aimed at improving management and protection.
The researchers are calling for a new UK treaty to enable the creation of fully protected MPA’s to safeguard vulnerable habitats and to promote ecosystem resilience.
Callum Roberts, professor of Marine Conservation at York and co-author of the study said: ‘Highly and fully protected MPAs are essential to safeguard vulnerable habitats and wildlife in a fast-changing world.
‘Without them, the future looks bleak for some of the ocean’s most charismatic creatures, including sharks, turtles and marine mammals.’
Bethan O’Leary, research associated in the Department of Environment and Geography at York University said: ‘The new UN treaty negotiations offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the mismanagement of the high seas and fulfil the obligations in the Law of the Sea to protect vulnerable marine wildlife and fish stocks.’
In January this year, the UN published a biodiversity framework, outlining plans that are essential if we are to avoid mass extinction.
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