STRONG High Seas

The high seas are those areas outside of national jurisdiction. They span a vast area and make up more than half of the world’s oceans. Biodiversity in the high seas is threatened by intensifying human activities such as fishing and other types of marine harvesting, shipping and pollution, impacting human wellbeing worldwide. In addition, increases in man-made CO2 emissions have resulted in rising ocean acidity, declining oxygen levels, warming waters and shifting ocean currents. The connectivity between high seas and coastal waters means that impacts on high seas ecosystems will also harm social and ecological systems close to shore.

The existing governance framework is fragmented and with legal gaps, rendering it insufficient to address the increasing threats to high seas biodiversity. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) lays down rules governing uses of the ocean and its resources, but does not specify how states should conserve and sustainably use high seas biodiversity. A host of regional and sectoral agreements were developed independently both before and after UNCLOS came into force in 1994, leading to a patchy governance framework. Moreover, there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between the numerous agencies and organizations both at the regional and global level.

A window of opportunity to address the threat of marine biodiversity loss opened in 2017 when formal negotiations for a new international and legally binding instrument on marine biodiversity in the high seas were launched by the United Nations General Assembly. For effective implementation, such a global instrument will depend on improved and well-coordinated action of the responsible international and regional management bodies.

At the regional level, decision-makers require improved knowledge and understanding about the gaps, challenges and opportunities in the legal and governance framework; current status of, as well as key pressures and threats on biodiversity; the links between high seas biodiversity and human wellbeing; as well as possible options for the management of high seas biodiversity and the implementation, monitoring and enforcement of these management approaches. At the same time, coordination and cooperation between key stakeholders in the regions facilitates improved design, implementation and durability of cross-sectoral management approaches. While every region faces specific challenges, ongoing interregional exchange offers valuable lessons and insights for identifying regionally appropriate pathways. Strengthened regional governance builds the basis for an effective global agreement under UNCLOS and its successful implementation.

In the STRONG High Seas project, we focus on the Southeast Atlantic and Southeast Pacific regions, which are characterized by important oceanic currents contributing to high marine productivity. Working through regional organizations, States in these regions have recognized the need to strengthen ocean governance for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, including in the high seas.

We carry out transdisciplinary scientific assessments to provide decision-makers, both in the target regions and globally, with improved knowledge and understanding on high seas biodiversity. We engage with stakeholders from governments, private sector, science and civil society to develop together, based on our scientific work, ecosystem-based, cross-sectoral approaches to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Southeast Atlantic and Southeast Pacific. We then bring these proposed approaches to the attention of the relevant regional policy processes. To foster interregional exchange and collaboration, we facilitate dialogue with other marine regions. In this regard, we set up a regional stakeholder platform to facilitate joint learning and develop a community of practice. Finally, we develop possible options for regional governance in a new global agreement under UNCLOS on marine biodiversity in the high seas.

Read more about STRONG High Seas here.

Explore the STRONG High Seas Regional Platforms here.

Find a collection of STRONG High Seas resources here. 

Catch up on the latest STRONG High Seas news here.

Find out more about the STRONG High Seas partners here.

For more information on the STRONG High Seas project, please contact the STRONG High Seas Project Team at IASS:

Project details

Title: STRONG High Seas- Strengthening Regional Ocean Governance for the High Seas

Duration: June 2017 – May 2022

Coordinator: Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)

Implementing partners: BirdLife International, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), International Ocean Institute (IOI), Universidad Católica del Norte, WWF Colombia, WWF Germany

Regional partners: Secretariat of the Comisión Permanente del Pacífico Sur (CPPS), Secretariat of the Abidjan Convention

International Ocean Institute African Region
UCN genaral

This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI; The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.