Protecting the Untamed Seas

Source: The New York Times

On the high seas — which cover more than 40 percent of the planet’s surface — there is no legal framework for creating protected areas. Even if they wanted to, countries have no formal process for setting aside protected marine parks in international waters. Over the next two years, the United Nations intends to change that.

SUPPOSE a group of scientists wanted to dump 100 tons of iron dust into the sea based on a controversial climate-change theory that the ore might spur the growth of plankton that absorb carbon dioxide. They can — one businessman did that in 2012.

Imagine if entrepreneurial engineers hoping to save clients millions of dollars were able to launch rockets into space from a platform in the middle of the ocean, far away from curious onlookers, heavy taxes and strict on-land regulations. They can — a company has been doing this for over a decade.

And what if pharmaceutical companies decide to rake the ocean floor for the next wonder drug, with minimal environmental oversight and no obligation to make the profits, research or resulting medicines public? They can — the research is already happening.

All of this is possible because the waters farther than 200 nautical miles from shore are generally outside of national jurisdiction and largely beyond government control. More than 40 percent of the planet’s surface is covered by water that belongs to everyone and no one, and is relatively lawless and unregulated.

Over the next two years, though, the United Nations intends to change this reality. After nearly a decade of discussion, it ratified a resolution in June to begin drafting the first treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas.

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