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International Agreement on High Seas MPAs Signed by Tánaiste at United Nations

20th September 2023
The UN has committed to develop an international legally-binding HighSeas Treaty to manage shared marine biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)
The UN has committed to develop an international legally-binding HighSeas Treaty to manage shared marine biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)

A “landmark agreement” on global ocean conservation has been signed at the United Nations in New York by Tánaiste Micheál Martin.

The Agreement on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) marks “a significant milestone in international cooperation as the first dedicated global treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of the high seas”, the Department of Foreign Affairs says.

The high seas comprise two-thirds of oceans and half the planet's surface area, but fall outside the jurisdiction of any country.

“The agreement will provide for the creation of a global network of high seas marine protected areas (MPAs),” it says.

"The high seas comprise two thirds of oceans and half the planet's surface area, but fall outside the jurisdiction of any country"

Currently, it says that only 1% of the high seas are protected by MPAs, which is far short of what is envisaged by the “30 by 30” target of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in December 2022.

On signing the BBNJ Agreement, the Tánaiste said: “Today, we mark a historic moment for the protection of our oceans”.

“Following years of negotiation, this landmark agreement shows the power of international cooperation,” he said.

It stands as a beacon of hope, demonstrating a shared commitment to fulfilling the targets set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals, preserving the oceans’ invaluable ecosystems and resources for future generations,”he said.

“Ireland has played an active and constructive role in negotiating this agreement. It has the potential to greatly enhance the protection of our global marine environment,” he added.

The agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, (BBNJ Agreement) was adopted by consensus by an intergovernmental conference at the UN in New York on June 19th, 2023.

Ireland played an active role in the negotiations as part of the EU negotiating team, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The agreement opened for signature on September 20th, and is subject to ratification.

A total of 60 states must ratify the agreement for it to enter into force. Ireland is examining national measures necessary for ratification, including possible legislative measures, and intends to ratify “in early course”, the department said.

The BBNJ Agreement was developed to further implement the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In addition to its provisions on marine protected areas, the agreement strengthens processes for environmental impact assessments for activities that may impact the marine environment, the department says.

It also sets out arrangements for capacity-building measures to assist developing countries in achieving the agreement's aims, and it contains provisions addressing benefit-sharing relating to marine genetic resources.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!