Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
The world’s oceans are poised for a seabed mining frenzy amid a “marine industrial revolution” that threatens to destroy habitats and wipe out species, an expert has warned.[ More ]
Legislation to protect ocean areas beyond national borders is moving dangerously slowly, a summit on ocean resources has heard.[ More ]
The high seas—the vast roiling ocean that reaches beyond a coastal states’ 320-kilometer exclusive economic zone, or EEZ—is Earth’s largest biosphere. It represents about 58 percent of our planet’s oceans and is mostly unexplored, exhaustively exploited and in rapid decline. That’s why there was cause for celebration a few weeks ago when, after a decade of hair-pulling discussions, national representatives at the United Nations finally agreed that the high seas need protection.[ More ]
The rapid deterioration of the world's oceans and the life they contain calls for a breakthrough in their governance, writes Deborah Wright. The seas must be protected, respected and policed as the common heritage of all mankind, and of all generations present and future, and that will require modernizing the Law of the Sea.[ More ]
For thousands of years, ice and harsh conditions have served as a natural barrier between species from the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in the northern hemisphere. New research, however, shows that large fish populations will soon be able to make the journey northward and defy the barrier between the Atlantic and the Pacific which could have serious consequences for both fisheries and local ecosystems.[ More ]
World governments agreed last week that the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be expanded to include a new legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine life in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ).[ More ]
Countries at the UN have agreed to start formal negotiations on a new 'legally binding instrument' to conserve the biological riches of the high seas that cover 45% of planet Earth, and ensure their sustainable use for the benefit of all mankind.[ More ]
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.[ More ]
The Global Ocean Commission reported in late June that the ocean, the planet’s largest and least-protected bioregion, is close to collapse. The independent body, which includes former heads of state, government ministers, and ocean scientists, points to a perfect storm of escalating threats to the sea: overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution, as well as ocean acidification and warming due to climate change.[ More ]
Today President Obama announced plans to expand the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a marine reserve created by George W. Bush in 2009. The final perimeter has not yet been determined, but maritime law allows the U.S. to control up to 200 nautical miles away from the shore.[ More ]
The convention’s provisions on environmental protection address all sources of marine pollution, from ships and waste disposal at sea, in coastal areas and estuaries, to airborne particles. They create a framework for further developing measures to prevent, reduce, and control pollution globally, regionally, and nationally, and they call for measures to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems, the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species, and other forms of marine life.
Those facts alone argue strongly for U.S. accession. To answer the question “Why now?” however, a daunting set of comparatively new ecological threats must be considered. Climate change and the burgeoning industrialization of the oceans are giving rise to severe environmental stresses that require an urgent global response. U.S. leadership is critical, not only in undertaking the research that will help us understand the effects of climate change in the marine environment and related mitigation and adaptation options, but also in tackling the problems head-on. In many respects, such leadership cannot be fully realized without accession to the convention.
The Convention also maximizes legal certainty for United States sovereign rights over ocean resources in the largest EEZ in the world, as well as energy and mineral and other resources on our extended continental shelf. The Convention provides the mechanism to assure international recognition of additional United States sovereign rights on an extended continental shelf. Moreover, due to overfished and depleted fish populations, effective management of migratory fish stocks and fisheries will continue to be a contentious issue for the foreseeable future. The Convention is widely accepted as the legal framework under which all international fisheries are regulated and enforced. The Convention imposes responsibilities on the coastal states to manage their fishery resources responsibly and provides a process for resolving conflicts between competing users. The Coast Guard defends United States sovereign rights by protecting our precious ocean resources from poaching, unlawful incursion, and illegal exploitation. Joining the Convention places these sovereign rights on a firmer legal foundation, bolstering the Coast Guard’s continued ability to ensure our Nation’s sovereign rights are respected.
In particular, becoming a party to the Convention will give the Coast Guard greater leverage in our efforts to eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. American fishermen are currently abiding by standards contemplated by the Convention and further detailed in the related UN Fish Stocks Agreement. They are adversely affected by foreign fishermen who illegally harvest highly migratory fish stocks. In another anomalous situation, the United States is a party to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, which is directly related to the legal regime of the Law of the Sea Convention, even though we have not joined the underlying Convention. As a party to the Convention, we would be in a stronger position to persuade other nations to abide by the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and other modern international standards of fisheries management and thus advance our Nation’s interests in this field.
By most accounts, U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will have a positive effect on the environment. This is not because the U.S. will be binding itself to any new substantive norms. On the contrary, most substantive provisions of UNCLOS are already part of U.S. policy and have been for many years. Despite this, the conservation of ocean wildlife, the protection of delicate marine ecosystems, and the control of marine pollution are by their very nature multilateral issues. U.S. ratification will demonstrate U.S. commitment to address these problems in a cooperative manner at a time when some view U.S. policy as generally antithetical to multilateral arrangements. The environmental community strongly favors UNCLOS and U.S. ratification would send a message of support.
Leadership in Environmental Concerns. A fourth reason for the change in the American attitude toward the Convention was a new global attitude toward management of the environment. Part XII of the Convention deals extensively with the protection and preservation of the marine environment, covering a wide array of issues, from general principles to global and regional cooperation, technical assistance, monitoring and environmental assessment, and responsibility and liability.31 The inclusion of strong environmental protection measures in the Convention was an earlier and enduring goal of the United States. In the decade following its completion, the U.S., along with many other nations, became even more interested in preserving the environment, to the point that such concerns in many cases supplanted economic considerations.32 Given that Part XII creates an effective, if diffuse, international mechanism for controlling marine pollution and establishes a symbiotic relationship between the Convention and other issue-specific agreements, the Clinton administration decided that agreeing to the Convention would ensure a stable regime for environmental protection.33
Mr. Chairman, the Law of the Sea Convention is a powerful and successful environmental treaty precisely because it seeks to achieve a reasonable balance between environmental and other interests. For many years, in the law of the sea negotiations and in other fora, the United States has tried to make clear that environmental treaties must be carefully framed to produce a reasonable accommodation of diverse interests. Some people have characterized this as opposition to environmental protection. Some of the extreme rhetoric used abroad has been particularly damaging to our reputation in important allied countries. The Senate now has a signal opportunity to set the record straight. Its approval of the Convention and the Implementing Agreement would suggest that there is every reason to ensure that the multilateral agenda is pursued carefully and that, as long as it may take, at the end of the day relevant interests are reasonably accommodated. It would announce that when that is done, America will stand second to none in joining to strengthen multilateralism, to strengthen the rule of law in international affairs, and to strengthen international protection of the environment.
While these powers give us a great deal of control over our interests in both environmental protection and the productive use of our continental shelf, in themselves they are insufficient to protect the full range of either our environmental interests or our energy and other interests. To protect those interests, we need to influence the laws and practices of foreign countries. It is for this reason that the Convention establishes a floor of generally accepted international standards that every coastal state must apply. Among the American interests that this protects are the following:
- Our neighbors have the same exclusive rights over the continental shelf off their coasts as we have off ours. Pollution from their activities can easily affect our waters, our resources, and our shores. This became abundantly clear a number of years ago when a pollution incident on the Mexican continental shelf gave rise to extensive public concerns in Texas and other Gulf states that our waters and coastline would be polluted. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to protect ourselves from such incidents in a way that avoids any appearance that we are bullying our neighbors.
- While every coastal state has the right to impose higher standards on its continental shelf activities, and ours are among the strongest in the world, the oil and gas industry is a global enterprise that can achieve economic efficiencies from uniform global standards regarding equipment and operations. Those efficiencies can of course help to keep down the cost of energy and free up additional capital for investment. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to promote stronger and more efficient international standards and their general acceptance.
- We live in an era of instant global news. A serious pollution catastrophe on the continental shelf anywhere in the world is likely to be reported, and its consequences televised, throughout the globe. This can stimulate public demands in many countries for new restrictions on continental shelf development. To the extent that this means that we all continue to learn from each others’ mistakes, this is of course a good thing. But to the extent that public excitement can lead to hasty and ill-considered actions either in the United States or in other countries, the economic consequences can be adverse, and the result may be an unnecessary increase in the price of energy. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to ensure the emergence and enforcement of international standards that reduce the likelihood of such events.
- Our interest in the health of the oceans throughout the world is no mere abstraction. They comprise over two-thirds of our world, and are essential to our well-being and the overall ecological balance of the planet. Marine living resources from the far reaches of the globe supply us and the rest of the world with food, with sources of recreation, with valuable scientific knowledge, and with the promise of new and more effective medicines. We have neither an environmental nor an economic interest in a race to the bottom in pollution regulation in other parts of the world that destroys marine life. As a party to the Convention, we will have increased credibility and leverage to exercise the kind of balanced global leadership in protecting the oceans that is incumbent upon the leading maritime power in the world and that the American people expect.
This is but one example of the benefits of the approach taken by the Convention to environmental protection. There are many others. The provisions that successfully accommodate the interests of states with respect to freedoms and rights of navigation and their interests with respect to prevention of pollution are obviously of great importance. The maintenance over time of a reasonable balance responsive to both navigation and environmental interests would unquestionably be advanced by U.S. participation in the Convention.
The Convention is also an environmental accord that provides a comprehensive framework for the prevention, reduction, and control of maritime pollution. The Coast Guard conducts a wide-ranging port state control program to purge our waters of substandard ships and is assisting other nations in doing the same. This initiative will be enhanced through the consistent application of the Convention’s broad enforcement mechanisms. Additionally, the Convention carefully balances the rights of coastal states to adopt certain measures to protect the marine environment adjacent to their shores and the general right of a flag state to set and enforce standards and requirements concerning the operation of its vessels. Becoming a party to the Law of the Sea Convention will strengthen the international credibility of the U.S. and our efforts to guide the development of internationally accepted vessel standards, thereby improving marine safety and protection of the marine environment.
The treaty champions the rights of the American people in the conservation of their offshore living marine resources, particularly fish. Ninety percent of the living marine resources are harvested within 200 miles of the coast. The convention confirms the validity of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone, proclaimed by President Reagan in 1983. The treaty's provisions relating to the conservation and management of living marine resources are consistent with U.S. law, policy, and practice. Its provisions on the conservation of high seas fishery resources are more critical today than they were a few years ago because of the dramatic overfishing that has occurred worldwide just in the past decade. The dispute settlement provisions of the convention as they relate to high seas fisheries will help us ensure that overfishing does not occur on the high seas adjacent to our 200-mile zone in a manner detrimental to the interests of our fishing industry.
The convention champions the rights of the American people to protect the marine mammals that inhabit the vast ocean space. Americans care about whales and giant sea turtles and other important sea creatures. Poll after poll confirms this interest, and the treaty sets up the mechanisms whereby the United States can work to respond to these uniquely international issues.
This treaty champions the rights of the American people in the environmental arena. How does it do this? It is the strongest and most comprehensive environmental treaty in existence or likely to emerge for quite some time. The convention establishes, for the first time, a comprehensive legal framework for the protection and preservation of the marine environment. By addressing all sources of marine pollution, such as pollution from vessels, seabed activities, ocean dumping, and land-based sources, it promotes the continuing improvement in the health of the world's oceans. This treaty effectively and expressly finds the right balance between economic and environmental interests. Of particular note, it finds the right balance between America's interests as a coastal state in protecting its environment and natural resources with the American armed forces' rights and freedoms of navigation around the world.
With respect to protection of the U.S. coastal marine environment in particular, I would note that the Executive Branch, through the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and the Environmental Protection Agency, has pursued a vigorous, successful enforcement initiative to detect and deter pollution from ships. In line with the policy of successive Administrations since 1983 to act in accordance with the balance of interests reflected in the Convention’s provisions regarding traditional uses of the oceans, U.S. marine pollution enforcement efforts have been undertaken in a manner consistent with the Convention, including its allocation of enforcement responsibilities among coastal States, flag States, and port States in various situations.
In order to ensure that the relationship between U.S. law and the Convention’s enforcement provisions is a seamless one, the Administration recommended, and the proposed resolution of advice and consent contains, a number of understandings that, among other things, harmonize certain domestic terminology with the Convention and confirm the longstanding right of a State to impose and enforce conditions for entry of foreign vessels into its ports. The Convention’s support of a State’s ability to exercise its domestic authority to regulate the introduction of invasive species into the marine environment and to regulate marine pollution from industrial operations on board foreign vessels is also highlighted.
U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will have a positive effect on the environment as the conservation of ocean wildlife, the protection of delicate marine ecosystems, and the control of marine pollution are by their very nature multilateral issues. U.S. ratification will demonstrate U.S. commitment to address these problems in a cooperative manner at a time when some view U.S. policy as generally antithetical to multilateral arrangements. The environmental community strongly favors UNCLOS and U.S. ratification would send a message of support
- U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would boost its international environmental leadership and support multilateral environmental cooperation
- U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will go a long way towards promoting international protection of the environment
- U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would boost U.S. leadership on protecting maritime environment in multiple ways
- UNCLOS greatly improves international protections for marine biodiversity
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Deep seabed mining could have serious impacts on the ocean environment and the future livelihoods and well being of coastal communities. An international, multi-sector approach to management and protection, similar to that under development by the International Seabed Authority under UNCLOS, is needed, if we are to ensure the health and sustainable use of our oceans.
- Deep seabed mining could destroy valuable biodiversity that hasn't even been discovered yet
- Deep seabed environment is a critical ecosystem that needs to be protected
- Deep seabed mining can devastate fish stocks by disrupting the seamounts they depend on
- Seabed mining can have a significant impact on fragile ecosystems
- Light and noise pollution from mingling operations could disrupt fragile ecosystems
- Interest in seabed mining is growing but not enough attention is being paid to the environmental impacts
- Independent analysis shows deep seabed mining more environmentally friendly than land-based alternatives