The largest, least-protected places on our blue planet are found in the high seas – the open ocean and deep seabed areas that lie beyond national jurisdictions. They cover about 45% of the Earth’s surface, and 64% of the oceans. Belonging to no single nation, they have long been neglected by all.
The high seas are home to whales, seabirds, sea turtles, tunas, and sharks that traverse entire ocean basins in search of food. They house deep-dwelling fishes and invertebrate animals that live long, slow-motion lives in eternal darkness. Fishing, mining, climate change and other human-caused impacts threaten high seas biodiversity. These losses are our losses, as they threaten the ocean's ability to sustain marine life and human societies.
The global community, through the United Nations, has decided that key high seas ecosystems should be protected. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization developed criteria to identify ecologically important and vulnerable areas in the high seas: Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs).
One method scientists use to delineate VMEs is the presence of certain ‘indicator species,’ often cold-water corals or glass sponges. By mapping the locations of these indicator species, we support efforts to establish new areas as VMEs and protection of the high seas. Marine Conservation Institute is developing species distribution models to help map indicator species in the Pacific Ocean. These efforts provide international authorities with essential information for implementing effective ocean protection measures on the high seas.
The United Nations has started the process of creating a conservation treaty for the high seas. As an active member of the High Seas Alliance and Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Marine Conservation Institute will continue to advocate for an effective treaty and lasting ocean protection.