- Nearly two-thirds of the world’s ocean lies in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), which are home to unique species and ecosystems.
- Fragmented legal frameworks leave biodiversity in ABNJ vulnerable to growing threats.
- The degradation of biodiversity in ABNJ affects the ocean’s capacity to provide resources necessary for human survival.
- Negotiations are underway to create a new international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law, which would help close the existing ABNJ governance gap.
- A new international instrument can provide a global framework for marine protected areas in ABNJ, ensure states assess impacts of potentially harmful activities, and facilitate inclusive scientific research that enables the equitable sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources.
Scientists caution that failure to take swift and effective action to address threats to biodiversity in ABNJ could compromise the ocean’s capacity to provide resources and services necessary for human survival. Ecosystems in ABNJ are affected by the cumulative effects of fishing, shipping and other sectors.
Two-thirds of fish stocks in ABNJ are being fished beyond sustainable limits. Overfishing disrupts marine communities and creates an imbalance between species, with commercially important fishes unable to replenish their stocks.
Biodiversity in ABNJ is also impacted by noise and toxic spills from ships, which can disrupt communication among animals and displace them from their preferred breeding or feeding grounds. Marine debris entangles marine animals, causing severe injuries and deaths. Emerging activities such as deep-sea mining have the potential to destroy habitats and wipe out species in ABNJ.
Existing stressors are made worse by climate change, with the ocean disproportionately affected by increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and heat content, affecting its ability to regulate the Earth’s climate and sustain marine life. Increasing temperatures for instance are causing mass movements as species search for favourable environmental conditions.
Billions of people depend on the ocean for food and income; and marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people. The vast pool of marine genetic resources provides innovative medicines and other products to the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. Phytoplankton, kelp and algal plankton in the ocean produce more than half of the oxygen we breathe as a by-product of photosynthesis.