A new conservation regime for the high seas
Spindrift for schools

By  Dona Bertarelli

I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.

A new conservation regime for the high seas

As we have headed south through, first the Atlantic, then the Indian Ocean and now the Pacific, weeks have passed since we had sight of the mainland. We have crossed and sailed many times through the invisible 200-mile boundary separating the ocean governed by countries and into international waters. Biologically meaningless, this legal boundary marks our transition into the high seas, which constitute almost two-thirds of the world’s oceans and cover nearly half the planet’s surface. This vast unexplored region contains perhaps the largest reservoir of undisturbed biodiversity left on earth.

Practically every scientific voyage to the high seas yields discoveries new to science. At the same time, international waters face growing pressures, as overfishing, pollution and the ever-expanding quest for resources are pushing human industrial activity further from the coast and out into the high seas. Fishing, seabed mining, ocean warming and acidification, chemical and noise pollution, plastic waste, cables, ship traffic, and destructive practices like bottom trawling all pose growing threats.

Unfortunately, the existing legal regime governing human activities on the high seas is outdated and poorly equipped to address these new pressures. For example, there are no uniform requirements for assessing the impacts of industrial activities on the high seas – requirements that have been in place in the domestic waters of many nations since the 1970s. Similarly, there is no mechanism to establish fully protected high seas marine reserves, where marine life can flourish undisturbed. As a result, industrialization is taking place in a haphazard manner with little regard for the potential cumulative effects on individual species, habitats, or the functioning of the larger ocean ecosystem.

Because the high seas lie beyond the jurisdiction of any one nation, international action is required to update and modernize the high seas legal regime. The good news is that, after many years of discussion, countries will begin negotiating a new international instrument for the conservation and management of high seas biodiversity in March at the United Nations. This is a huge step forward. Of course different countries will have different views on the best way to proceed. But I hope they will all remember the importance of conservation to ensure the long-term health of our oceans and the life they support.​