The current situation of the seas and oceans is one of the most popular topics of the moment due to the creation of the High Seas Treaty. However, this threat has been brewing for a long time, although a global solution has not been sought. If you are still not clear about what the measures in favor of the oceans consist of, throughout this article we will break down what the High Sea Treaty means for the international community and for the health of the marine ecosystems.
OCEANS: WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO TAKE CARE OF THEM?
The ocean is a body of water that covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface and that, as National Geographic confirms: «provides us with 97% of the Earth’s water supply.»
Oceans influence the most important meteorological phenomena, regulate the climate, produce the oxygen we breathe and is the migration route for whales and other species. Basically, its temperature, chemistry, currents, and life, move worldwide systems that make the Earth habitable for humanity.
Also, they are highly relevant in terms of oxygen since between 60% and 70% of the oxygen we breathe is generated by phytoplankton, the primary producers of the sea. That is why it is said that the oceans have become the lungs of the earth.
Another of its most important characteristics is that they are the great regulators of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The oceans absorb the CO2 that we emit, and it is used by marine plant communities. Although this can create a serious problem. Since an excess of CO2 absorbed changes the pH; so the oceans are acidifying, and we run the risk of turning them from being CO2 sinks to CO2 emitters.
Life began in the ocean and it continues to be the home of many species necessary for life to continue as we know it.
If the ocean gives us all that, why do we damage it so much?
SITUATION BEFORE THE HIGH SEAS TREATY
They have spent more than 15 years looking for a common agreement that can regulate and guarantee the protection of our oceans without success. Several experts from all over the world have already assured that we have to act now because there is no turning back. Although it has been seen that the international community has had a hard time reaching an understanding.
For María Gómez Ballesteros, Geologist and Technical and Advisory Deputy Director of the CN-Spanish Institute of Oceanography (CSIC), in her recent intervention at the panel of discussion of the Gravity Wave Awards, defined oceans as: «The oceans are a source of health, environmental for the planet itself, a source of food for us, and a source of energy”. and, despite all that, we are destroying the ecosystem.
The oceanographer, Josep María Gili, from the Institute of Marine Science (CSIC), knows this reality well: “Everything in the ocean is connected, from the plastic island in the north Pacific to the extreme south. And also through the continental shelves where protection depends on countries. Sometimes, when we oceanographers arrive in an area, it has already been destroyed; when we discover species we have to put them on the list to protect them”.
MAIN THREATS THAT THE ECOSYSTEM HAVE
On the one hand, the human being, who tends to be self-destructive. As Ricardo Barrena, president of Sea Shepherd Spain, explains during his speech at the panel of discussion of the second edition of the Gravity Wave Awards: “there are illegal fleets that are going to prey there (specific areas of Africa), and that empty the oceans, condemning the population to malnutrition”. On the other hand, plastics, the emerging and silent threat that is invading all our seas.
It is very complex to find a solution for this phenomenon that is so developed, microplastics are the particles that are causing the most damage in the ecosystem. Carolina Manhussen, founder of the Ocean Born Foundation, and Agustín Puig, co-founder of AguaKMZero, have a very clear idea in this aspect: «You have to turn off the tap.» This was the definitive answer that both proposed as a solution for the last question that was thrown at the Gravity Wave Awards round table: “What tangible solutions do you need to make those synergies happen?”
If you don’t make plastics you can’t dump them into the ocean, right?
However, the authorities opt for more subtle and consensual measures that, although they lengthen the solution over time, try to find balance. Therefore they opt for measures such as the creation of treaties or regulations that are in a legal framework where they can act.
LET’S TAKE A DEEP LOOK INTO THE HIGH SEAS TREATY
The creation and signing of the High Seas Treaty is a very important moment in the history of ocean protection. Although there is still time for this to be real, it is a step forward in terms of consensus and objectives. This Treaty represents a turning point for the establishment of common guidelines and feasible proposals among the vast majority of members of the international community.
Two-thirds of the world’s oceans are currently considered international waters. That means that all countries have the right to fish, ship and research there. But so far only about 1% of these waters, known as the «high seas,» have been protected.
This leaves the marine life that lives in that area at risk of exploitation by threats such as climate change, overfishing and maritime traffic.
The High Seas Treaty intends to implement a legislative regulation to be able to control the activities that are carried out in the «High Seas». That is, all parts of the sea not included in the exclusive economic zone, internal waters of a State, nor in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State. Thus avoiding any type of damage that prevents the improvement of the situation of the oceans.
THE KEY MEASURE
Is to place the world’s international waters in protected areas (MPAs). That will help achieve the global goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030, which was agreed at the UN biodiversity conference in 2022.
The treaty will cover nearly two-thirds of the ocean that lies outside national borders. It will also provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas to protect wildlife and share genetic resources. These can have benefits for society such as pharmaceuticals and food.
The countries have agreed to «fairly and equitably» share any discoveries made in the deep sea between countries. This was very important to the poorer nations, as they argued that they may not have the resources to do this work independently.
Activities that had been taking place in those areas can continue «as long as it is consistent with conservation objectives.» That means that marine life is not being harmed.
This could mean limitations on fishing activities, shipping lanes, and exploration activities such as deep-sea mining.
The countries will propose areas to protect, and then they will be voted on by the countries that sign the treaty.
Countries will also be asked to assess the environmental impact of activities in the oceans if the impacts are not well known or could cause harm to marine life.
Thanks to all this, it can be said that: «The ship has arrived at port».
SPAIN SAYS NO TO PLASTIC AND YES TO THE HIGH SEAS TREATY
There are still some procedures that will lengthen the process of entry into force of the agreement. However, Spain does not want to waste a minute. Therefore it has decided to implement certain rules and laws that regulate the consumption of plastic. Which directly interferes with the plastic found in seas and oceans.
Royal Decree 1055/2022 on packaging and packaging waste
Has an objective that coincides with that of the Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils for a Circular Economy. The Law sets a 20% reduction in single-use plastic bottles by 2030 compared to 2022 levels.
For this, some initiatives such as bulk sales are going to be put into practice. Measures have been included to encourage an increase in the proportion of reusable packaging placed on the market and packaging reuse systems in an environmentally friendly manner and in accordance with the EU Treaty. The reuse of beverage containers will also be promoted and progress will be made towards the end of the commercialization of single-use plastic containers. By which reusable containers can be supplied at the point of sale or allow the consumer can provide theirs to fill them in the establishment.
Because of this, new standards have been created on the design and marking of containers, in addition to the information that is reflected in those markings. Taking into account the extended responsibility of the producer, it seeks to transfer to the producers the responsibility for the products they put on the market. To do this, this regulation proposes that they have to assume the management of the waste they generate.
THE HIGH SEAS TREATY AND GRAVITY WAVE WORKING TO ACHIEVE THE SAME GOAL
Having seas free of any type of pollution is beneficial, both for marine life itself and the ecosystem, as well as for humans. It is time to realize the damage that is being done to one of our main sources of life. And that is why actions such as the creation of a treaty, whose objective is to preserve and protect our seas and oceans, are so important.
Julen Rodríguez, Co-founder of Gravity Wave, explains the real situation in the Mediterranean during his intervention in the Objetivo Planeta program of the 24h channel: «The Mediterranean Sea is the sea with the highest concentration of plastic in the world, since its basin is practically closed”.
At Gravity Wave we have been aware of the problem that plastics generate for the health of all seas, but mainly in the Mediterranean. Julen Rodríguez, in the same program, also argued that: «In the sea we have found everything, giant tractor wheels, boats, motorcycles…» . That is why for a long time, cleaning the seas has not only been an idea but little by little, with great desire and enthusiasm, we have been turning it into our purpose and main objective.
The international community has already realized that we are late in caring for the planet and that any action is relevant. It is time for all of us to wake up and decide to take care of what the planet and the oceans have given us so much. WE ARE THE PEOPLE WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR and this is our moment to change things.
And you, do you want to be part of the change?