Last weekend, the United Nations reached an agreement on a landmark treaty aimed to protect life in the high seas! This treaty focuses specifically on resources that are contained in ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction. These areas, which are currently largely unregulated, encompass approximately two-thirds of the ocean by surface area and a much greater fraction by volume.
This historic new document has the potential for far-reaching and lasting benefits for marine ecosystems. For the first time, it will be possible to regulate fishing, mining, and pollution in areas of the sea not governed by any individual country. The treaty will also provide a means to create marine protected areas in the vast swaths of the ocean not currently controlled by any nation.
The treaty will also address ownership and access to marine genetic resources and benefits sharing for intellectual property arising from the open ocean. The aim is to ensure that developed and developing nations share equitably in wealth derived from the high seas. This was one of the major sticking points in the negotiations.
This agreement will have important implications for marine researchers, and for biological collections and repositories like OGL. Among these will be many new regulations that institutions and individual researchers will need to contend with. Fortunately, OGL has been working hard to adopt the many changes in regulations that were recently established by the Nagoya Protocol, an earlier UN treaty that governs the exchange of genetic material and data from areas within national borders. Hopefully, this vigilance will give OGL a leg up when details of the new treaty are announced.
It may be some time before enough nations adopt the new treaty, allowing it to go into force. But until then and beyond, OGL will continue its commitment to open, transparent, equitable, and sustainable sharing of the ocean’s genetic resources, and to helping researchers meet the complex demands of science in a rapidly changing world.