United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has listed five ‘no man’ high seas spaces across the world as potential world value.
|A deep sea creature. (c/o Shutterstock.com Super Joseph)|
However, a report by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) explores the different ways the World Heritage Convention may one day apply to these wonders of the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet.
Titled World Heritage in the High Seas: An Idea Whose Time has Come, the report presents five sites that illustrate different ecosystems, from biodiversity-rich areas to the natural phenomena that can only be found in the depths of the ocean. Each of these sites could be recognized as having outstanding universal value, a key principle of the World Heritage Convention, where spectacular qualities of certain sites are seen to transcend national boundaries. These include:
The Costa Rica Thermal Dome, a nutrient-rich area of the eastern Pacific where species like blue whales and leatherback sea turtles migrate and feed.
The White Shark Café, a stretch of the Pacific between North America and Hawaii that’s a habitat of white sharks
The Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean that’s home to free-floating algae.
The Lost City Hydrothermal Field, a deep-sea system of active hot springs and carbonate spires.
The Atlantis Bank, a sunken fossil island in the sub-tropical Indian Ocean that’s home to deep-sea coral species and large anemones.
“Just as on land, the deepest and most remote ocean harbors globally unique places that deserve recognition, just as we have given to the Grand Canyon National Park in the United States of America, to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador or the Serengeti National Park of the United Republic of Tanzania,” stated Mechtild Rössler, Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, in the preface to the report.
Although these sites are far from our shores, they are not safe from threats, whether it be climate change, deep seabed mining, navigation or plastic pollution. For these sites to benefit from the recognition and protection of the World Heritage Convention, adjustments to the inscription process will be necessary, since only countries can propose sites for inscription, and these zones in the high seas do not fall under any national jurisdiction. The report explores three ways in which the protection of the Convention could be expanded to protect these zones in the high seas.
“The High Seas have outstanding value on the global scale, yet they have little protection,” said Dan Laffoley, Principal Advisor on Marine Science and Conservation for IUCN and co-author of the report. “These areas are exposed to threats such as pollution and over-fishing, it is therefore crucial to mobilize the international community to ensure their long-term conservation”