Existing Management Regime
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are not a new idea and there is growing evidence that they serve a vital role in allowing fish and corals to recover from exploitation - even providing benefits for unprotected waters outside their borders. However, the majority of existing MPAs have all been set up within the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of individual countries (200 nautical miles), or on their Continental Shelves – which can extend beyond 200 nm. There is, as yet, no global legal framework for the establishment of MPAs within the nearly 50% of the planet that lies outside these zones. These “Areas beyond National Jurisdiction” (ABNJ), are the least protected in the world.
Regional agreements for conservation including the establishment of high seas MPAs already exist in some areas, such as the Northeast Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Southern Ocean, but not in the areas covered by the Sargasso Sea.
Under international law, the high seas areas beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast are open to all. The 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention envisages six basic high seas freedoms for all states: navigation; overflight; freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines; to construct artificial islands and other installations; freedom of fishing and of scientific research. Although the Convention does impose important duties (notably environmental protection) on those that exercise these freedoms, it is other sectoral treaty regimes that regulate a range of specific issues such as fishing, wildlife protection, shipping, and seabed mining.
Within this international law framework, a high seas protected area would need:
- Protection measures from the sectoral treaties that regulate specific of activities in the Sargasso Sea, such as the fisheries; navigation or seabed mining;
- Scientific evidence to support the adoption of such protective measures; and
- Political support to secure participation from all States.