Deep-Sea Experts Launch Into 5th High Seas Biodiversity Conference

DOSI Members attend the last round of international ocean biodiversity talks, IGC-4, in March 2022.

Human society depends on the ocean, now more than ever. Its enormous volume -over 90 percent of the space available to life on Earth- is filled with unique ecosystems. While those environments are usually out of sight, their effects on us are not. They provide food to eat, resources for medicine, and essential climate control.

Unfortunately, that enormous size and diversity also make the ocean hard to govern. Countries make rules for their ocean territories, of course, but those rules only extend to 200 nautical miles from shore at most. Beyond that boundary the ocean is governed by international law. And despite the ocean’s key role in our survival and the threats it faces, we still lack a solid set of rules for how to manage and conserve the things that live there. That’s risky and unsustainable: Without proper care, that ocean life beyond national borders will continue to be mostly unprotected from threats. Countries with fewer resources will also be hard-pressed to keep up with powerful states as ocean research and industry ramps up in international waters.

Ongoing Efforts

Recognizing the danger, the international community has been working for years to create a rulebook for managing life in the waters that are owned by both no one and everyone. Those negotiations have been hard, and not just because countries have different priorities. Managing human use of life in almost the entire ocean, which is kilometers deep and hundreds of millions of square kilometers across, is a tall order. The previous round of talks in March was meant to be the last, but the difficulty of the topic demanded a fifth session, “IGC 5,” this August.

That’s why ocean science (especially in the deep ocean, which makes up most of the high seas) is so important to getting the job done. While “just protect the ocean” seems like a simple proposition on the surface, in reality every aspect of these negotiations has to consider how life in the ocean works. Rules for area-based management tools, which will protect certain parts of the sea from harm, have to acknowledge how ocean species move across borders. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) need to be designed with scientifically rigorous, consistent methods to accurately predict dangers. Technology transfer and capacity building, two key themes of the negotiations, are especially important in the deep sea, which is difficult and expensive to access and study.

Bringing Science to Policy

Strong connections are needed between ocean science and the policies these meetings will create. DOSI and the rest of the deep ocean community have been deeply involved in supporting negotiators with the knowledge they need to craft effective rules, and that work is continuing at the 5th round of talks that began today. With support from Arcadia, our experts are sharing policy briefs and videos on key negotiation themes. Perhaps most notably, DOSI, IUCN, UK DEFRA DEEPEND, and EU MARBLES will also be holding a drop-in session to answer delegates’ questions about topics like Marine Genetic Resources, Marine Protected Areas, and more.

There are certainly challenges left to overcome on the road to a rulebook for life in international waters, but it is heartening to see experts and policymakers so passionate about working together to get the rules right. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out at the opening of the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, ocean policy and science must go hand in hand. DOSI is looking forward to helping build these connections further during IGC 5, and to supporting a final rulebook that provides the best results possible for the ocean and for people.