The move to create a network of marine protected areas that spans the entire globe took a huge step forward at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which ended last week in Bonn.
On Friday, May 30, the 9th Conference of the Parties to the CBD adopted two groundbreaking marine decisions that will provide important tools for conserving marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, otherwise known as the high seas.
The first deals with marine protected areas and the second with climate change in relation to the world’s oceans.
For the first time, Parties adopted scientific criteria for identifying areas in need of protection in open ocean waters and deep sea habitats in their decision on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity. They also adopted scientific guidance for designing representative networks of marine protected areas.
These criteria are an important mechanism for promoting international cooperation to protect important areas in the high seas. The criteria and guidance were developed at a CBD expert workshop and are based on a rigorous consolidation of over 20 existing sets of criteria applied nationally, regionally and globally, including those developed by IUCN.
The decision also urged Parties and invited other governments and relevant organizations to apply the scientific criteria and guidance to implement conservation measures, such as networks of marine protected areas in the high seas.
An expert workshop is to review and consolidate progress on the identification of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction that meet the scientific criteria.
“The results will contribute directly to progress at the sectoral and regional levels as well as at the United Nations General Assembly, where governments are discussing next steps for the management and governance of areas beyond national jurisdiction,” says Kristina Gjerde, IUCN’s High Seas Policy Advisor.
The move to clamp down on unregulated activities in the world’s oceans also made progress. Parties decided to set up an expert workshop to develop guidance for carrying out environmental impact assessments before such activities are allowed.
“Activities such as ocean fertilization – where nutrients like iron or nitrogen are added to the ocean in the hope that the resulting phytoplankton bloom will provide long-term storage of carbon dioxide – have been able to take place with no scrutiny whatsoever,” says Imène Meliane, IUCN’s Marine Policy Coordinator. “Developing these guidelines will help ensure such unregulated activities can’t just happen with nobody checking how they affect the marine environment.”
Parties also adopted a “de facto” moratorium on ocean fertilization, with the exception of small-scale scientific activities. This decision came after scientists reviewing the evidence on ocean fertilization concluded that “based on scientific projections, there is the potential for significant risks of harm to the marine environment” even if direct scientific evidence on the environmental impact was still lacking.
The scientists were meeting under the auspices of the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matters and its 1996 Protocol, the treaties regulating the dumping of wastes and other matter at sea. They met from 19-23 May in Guayaquil, Ecuador.