Written By Nereus Fellow Guillermo Ortuño Crespo
The negotiations on the fate of biodiversity in 46% of our planet, or the high seas, have begun. Since the aftermath of World War II, the distribution and intensity of anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) have been increasing almost continuously. After almost two decades of discussions about the need to better protect the high seas, the international community mobilized. UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 69/292 resulted in the creation of a two-year (2015-2017) Preparatory Committee tasked with providing recommendations towards a new international legally binding instrument (ILBI) for the conservation and sustainable use of BBNJ. This two-year process was open to the involvement of civil society. Members of the Nereus Program research network have been heavily involved in the generation and dissemination on actionable knowledge relevant to the BBNJ process, including questions of data repositories, technology transfer, the impacts of fisheries in the pelagic realm or climate change (read more here). The Preparatory Committee was able to agree on a series of technical recommendations for the UNGA, which proceeded to passing Resolution 72/249, which called for the summoning of an intergovernmental conference for the development of a new ILBI under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The first of at least four intergovernmental conferences recently took place at the UN headquarters in New York City. The negotiations were marked by a sense or urgency, responsibility and hope. Just like during the Preparatory Committee process, members of civil society were invited to participate in the deliberations and once again, various researchers from the Nereus Program were active participants in the conversation. The contributions of the Nereus Program during the Preparatory Committee meetings took two forms, informational side events and policy briefs. The first intergovernmental conference was no exception.
The Nereus Program side event took place during the first day of negotiations at the United Nations and focused on the topics of high seas taxonomic diversity, transboundary ecological connectivity and the integration of fisheries in the negotiations. The side event was a “full house”, two senior researchers moderated the session, while three fellows and research associates (Guillermo Ortunno Crespo [Duke University]; Marjo Vierros [Coastal Policy and Humanities Research] and Mathieu Colter [Bloom]) provided 10-minute oral interventions. The session was an opportunity to remind delegations and other members of the audience of the suite of policy briefs that the program has contributed to the BBNJ process over the last two and a half years (click here for Nereus policy briefs; click here for Duke policy briefs). A new policy brief on the boundaries of our
current knowledge on taxonomic diversity in the high seas was presented during this session. The brief explores the known taxonomic diversity of the high seas by describing the data recorded in the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS).
The research presented during the side event addressed existing knowledge gaps on high seas biodiversity and an area of current debate among delegations at the UN, if and how marine fisheries are to be or areas of intense debate. Through his talk, Guillermo introduced the policy brief to the ~60 attendees of the side event and discussed the current monitoring gaps in high seas fish monitoring. Marjo presented her work on the ecological connectivity between the high seas and coastal indigenous communities via migratory species, which are known to be particular social, cultural and economic importance to hundreds of coastal communities worldwide. The last walk was delivered by Mathieu, who provided an overview the legal status and responsibilities of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and discussed the role that these bodies could play in the conservation of marine biological diversity in the high seas.
The Nereus Program will continue engaging with this process as negotiations unfold. The best available science must always be at the table and Nereus researchers are in a unique position to deliver such information.