From: Nick Kennedy, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published February 28, 2014 10:00 AM

Scientists advocate protective deep-sea treaty

A new international agreement is needed to police the exploitation of the deep ocean because of the rising threats of deep-sea mining and bottom trawling for fish, say scientists. Speakers at a symposium this month (16 February) urged the UN to negotiate a new treaty for the deep ocean to supplement the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.



The symposium took place at the annual meeting of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in Chicago, United States.

"This is an opportunity for scientists to voice their concerns about mounting human impacts on the once-remote deep ocean to those who have the power in their hands to make the changes," says Kristina Gjerde, high seas policy advisor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The deep sea makes up about two-thirds of the world’s oceans. It begins at a depth of around 200 meters, both within and beyond zones of national jurisdiction.

But "imminent" mining and bottom trawling for fish threaten deep-sea environments, said the scientists at the meeting.

"We're calling for a new treaty to sew the gaps in international law that don’t currently include biodiversity, conservation, marine genetic resources, capacity development and technology transfer for areas beyond national jurisdiction," says Gjerde. 

The UN-sanctioned International Seabed Authority (ISA) was established in 1994 to regulate mineral extraction from the deep seabed outside national zones of jurisdiction. The ISA, based in Jamaica, has so far approved 19 mineral prospecting licenses in the deep ocean around the world for companies and government bodies, including China and India, as well as those sponsored by the Pacific island nations of Kiribati, Nauru and Tonga [See map]. The Cook Islands have also applied to explore deep-sea mining opportunities. 

But the ISA does not regulate marine genetic resources, which could be valuable to the medical and pharmaceutical sectors, or biodiversity conservation, says Lisa Levin, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity & Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, United States.

"The problem is that the ISA's mandate is to facilitate the extraction of minerals. They don't have a mandate to identify which parts of the sea floor are most critical to ecosystem health in the ocean," says Linwood Pendleton, senior scholar in the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at Duke University, United States.

The new treaty would ensure that financial gains made from marine genetic resources are shared between all nations, and that new mechanisms are developed to transfer marine technology and develop capacity in this field, says Gjerde.

Read more at ENN affiliate SciDevNet.

Deep-sea image via Shutterstock.

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