Story | 23 Oct, 2008

New Impetus for the High Seas following IUCN World Conservation Congress

IUCN members at the World Conservation Congress have called for strong action to protect high seas biodiversity and to regulate the human activities impacting it. This signals a growing awareness of the vital role oceans play in sustaining life on our planet and alarm at the multiplying threats to marine biodiversity from human activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction (the high seas).

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Photo: NASA

Amongst the 135 motions adopted at the Congress, held from 5-14 October, 2008 in Barcelona, Spain, were a series of motions calling on States and relevant organizations: to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems beyond national jurisdiction, to curb illegal fishing, to create marine protected area networks, to proactively manage human activities to prevent significant adverse effects, and to modernize high seas governance to incorporate the best governance and conservation principles and tools.

The Congress started with the four-day Forum run by IUCN members and partners discussing cutting edge ideas, thinking and practice. Workshop streams on ocean governance, marine protected areas, fisheries, climate change and law and policy all grappled with issues critical to high seas management. The two most significant threats—unsustainable fisheries and climate change -- pervaded these discussions. Workshops on the Pacific and the Mediterranean, the Arctic and the Antarctic, spotlighted common themes and problems including threats to the high seas commons.

To spur international reform, IUCN’s President Valli Moosa launched 10 Principles for modern high seas governance and challenged international experts to find new ways to implement them. The 10 Principles reflect fundamental principles that nations have agreed to in various treaties and declarations but have largely failed to implement on the nearly 50% of the planet that lies beyond individual nation’s jurisdiction. These principles are designed to stimulate progress by identifying common guidelines for action.

The 10 Principles for High Seas Governance can be downloaded at:

Highlights of the relevant motions adopted at Congress include:

1) High seas bottom fishing: Motion 40 (“Regional fisheries management organizations”) calls on States and RFMOs to:
a) Adopt and more fully implement conservation measures set forth in UNGA Resolution 61/105 § 83–86 to ensure the sustainability of deep seas fisheries on the high seas and to prevent significant adverse impacts on vulnerable deep sea ecosystems and;
b) Develop and implement effective port and market measures to enable tracking of fish caught in compliance with such measures.
It also calls on States through the UNGA at its 64th session to consider calling for an immediate suspension of capture and trade in deep sea bottom fish not caught in compliance with such conservation measures.

2) Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing: Motion 41(“Flag state responsibility regarding IUU fishing”) encourages States to:
a) Cooperate in work underway to define criteria for evaluating the degree to which Flag States meet their obligations;
b) Support work underway to clarify actions that could be taken against vessels and Flag States that do not satisfy these criteria;
c) Develop and adopt, individually or collectively through FAO and RFMOs, effective port state measures directed at vessels flying the flags of States which do not fulfill the criteria as defined and banning the market access to the fishing products caught and / or transported by these vessels;
d) Adopt measures against their nationals engaged in or supporting IUU fishing, including beneficial owners; and
e) Provide assistance for capacity building and increased technical assistance for developing countries, so that they can set up effective mechanisms to ensure that their flagged vessels are duly authorized and managed.

3) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Motion 67 (“Accelerating progress to establish marine protected areas and creating marine protected area networks”) calls on States, inter alia, to:
a) Accelerate their efforts to increase the establishment of marine protected areas and to create, by 2012, a global and effectively managed system of marine and coastal protected areas;
b) Define MPA systems based on a diversity of complementary tools which allow the combining of highly protected areas with managed multiple use areas; and
c) Promote the creation of effectively managed marine protected areas beyond national jurisdictions, consistent with international law.

4) High seas MPAs: Motion 43 (“Achieving conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”) more specifically calls on States to enhance efforts to:
a) Identify ecologically and biologically significant areas using scientific criteria and guidelines of the CBD and other relevant criteria;
b) Protect the habitats and species in such areas; and
c) Facilitate the development of representative networks of MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

5) Environmental impact assessments: Motion 43 (“Achieving conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”) also urges Member States of the UNGA to adopt a resolution calling on States to:
a) Develop assessment processes, including the assessment of cumulative impacts, of human activities with a potential for significant adverse impacts on marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; and
b) Ensure that such activities are subject to prior authorization by States responsible for nationals and vessels engaged in those activities, consistent with international law, and that such activities are managed to prevent such impacts, or not authorized to proceed.

6) High seas governance: Motion 43 (“Achieving conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”) also calls on States to:
a) Become party to UNCLOS, the CBD and other relevant instruments, and to implement appropriate measures aiming to protect the marine environment and marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction;
b) Promote arrangements, processes and agreements that ensure the consistent, coordinated and coherent application of the best conservation and governance principles and approaches, including integrated ecosystem-based management and the precautionary approach; and
c) Examine the need for further agreements to implement UNCLOS with respect to protection of the marine environment and conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

7) The Arctic: Motion 46 (“Arctic legal regime for environmental protection”) calls on all States to consider the need for new international arrangements in the Arctic; and calls on member States of the Arctic Council to implement marine ecosystem-based management approaches, including consideration of the establishment of an MPA covering high seas portions of the Arctic Ocean.

8) Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: Motion 45 (“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean”) urges action by all Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, the Protocol on Environmental Protection and CCAMLR to, among other things:
a) Develop a comprehensive and representative network of protected areas pursuant to Annex V of the Protocol by 2012, including consideration of declaring the Ross Sea an Antarctic Specially Protected Area;
b) Prevent introduction of alien species to Antarctic environments, including through ships, personnel and cargoes;
c) Assess the framework within which legal and environmental issues surrounding bioprospecting are considered and review the merits of better monitoring; and
d) As a matter of priority, take the necessary measures to stop IUU fishing in the oceans around Antarctica, including the use of trade-related measures (consistent with the WTO).

There were also motions adopted that inject marine considerations into climate change discussions, and urging wider efforts to build resilience and assist adaptation of marine ecosystems to climate change, in addition to a series of fisheries/species-related ones.
Adopted motions will soon be available for viewing at:

The Congress also saw the launch of a magnificently illustrated booklet on ‘High Seas Gems: Hidden Treasures of Our Blue Earth’, which spotlights ten high seas areas in need of priority attention, published by the cosmetics company Chantecaille Beaute with IUCN, WCPA, and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI).

About the Congress
The IUCN World Conservation Congress is the world’s largest and most important conservation event. Held every four years, the Congress aims to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.
The 4th Congress took place from 5 to 14 October, 2008, Barcelona, Spain. More than 7’500 leaders from government, the public sector, non-governmental organizations, business, UN agencies and social organizations discussed, debated and adopted motions proposing solutions for the world’s most pressing environment and development issues.