World Commission on Protected Areas

High Seas

IUCN WCPA High Seas Specialist Group The purpose of the High Seas Specialist Group is to advance awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the ocean beyond national boundaries and its connection to the ocean within
Coral outcrop at Flynn Reef, Mexico

IUCN WCPA Specialist Group Leader

Kristina Gjerde

Kristina Gjerde

IUCN WCPA High Seas Specialist Group TORs 2017-2020


Accounting for almost two-thirds of the global ocean, the high seas and seabed areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction (ABNJ) play a critical role in maintaining life on Earth. But, the current framework of governance related to conservation of marine biodiversity in ABNJ is weak and is characterized by large gaps. Gaps include the absence of rules to establish cross-sectorial marine protected area (MPAs) and other effective conservation tools.

Growing threats to marine biodiversity in ABNJ stem from fishing practices, shipping and land-based sources of pollution like plastics, nutrients and noise, and the potential effects of seabed mining. In addition, increases in CO2 have resulted in rising ocean acidity, declining oxygen levels, warming waters and shifting current patterns. These combined stressors are undermining the health and resilience of marine ecosystems and species around the world.  The ecological connectivity between the high seas and the waters of coastal states means that impacts on high seas ecosystems and biodiversity will harm social and ecological systems closer to shore, and that the impacts may be felt globally and across jurisdictional boundaries. 

MPAs are now perceived as among the key tools for conserving biodiversity, increasing productivity and improving the resilience and ability of marine ecosystems to respond to changing oceanic biophysical conditions. The WCPA High Seas Specialist Group (SG) has been working to inform the creation of high seas MPAs for over a decade. The WCPA High Seas MPA Task Force was officially established in 2003 following the 5th IUCN World Parks Congress where marine experts formulated a 10-Year High Seas MPA Strategy.


  • Promote scientific efforts to understand high seas ecosystems, and coordinate research to improve our understanding of high seas ecosystems in ways that can inform more effective governance.
  • Help write the terms of reference for IOC’s Decade of Exploration, a project to galvanize support, funding, and effort for global marine research.
  • Work with ocean observing programs including GOOS, GEOBON, GEOS, DOOS, etc. to promote greater observation of ABNJ in support of the development and monitoring of ABMTs.
  • Work with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and States Parties to advance the CBD EBSA process for describing significant areas in ABNJ
  • Support Duke’s Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab and partners in promoting and using the Migratory Connectivity in the Ocean (MiCO) system, a tool to provide actionable knowledge on migratory corridors and connectivity for species utilizing the high seasin support of the development of ABMTs in ABNJ, including marine spatial planning.
  • Hold workshops to brainstorm and develop understanding of potential interactions of different uses of ABNJ resources. Depending on funding availability, publish policy briefs summarizing workshop findings and governance implications.
  • Hold workshops (or otherwise support efforts to) analyze the utility and benefit of dynamic management approaches to the conservation of high seas biodiversity. Depending on funding availability, publish policy briefs summarizing workshop findings and governance implications.
  • Promote open access papers and online platforms that highlight high seas issues.


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