For more than 2,000 years, Greek mythology has conjured up images of Oceanus and Poseidon with his Trident wielding power over Earth’s most valuable resource — the ocean. But it wasn’t until just 50 years ago that we began to fully understand how important the ocean ecosystem is to life on Earth.
Nearly 180 kilometers off the coast of San Diego, California, there’s a surf break that, from time to time, spawns waves rising taller than two telephone poles stacked on top of each other. They inspire awe—and caution—in those driving the boats carrying big-wave surfers in search of the next world record. Yet there’s another hazard lurking in these waters: Bishop Rock, the summit of an enormous underwater mountain, lies just a meter or two below the surface. When the sea is particularly rough, Bishop Rock can poke its head through the troughs of larger swells.
No flag can claim the high seas, but many nations exploit them. As a result, life in the two-thirds of the oceans beyond any country’s territorial waters faces many threats that are largely unregulated, including overfishing and the emerging deep-sea mining industry.
Far from every shore, beyond the jurisdiction of any country, lie the vast high seas, full of life and biodiversity. They cover nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the world’s ocean and harbor life, ranging from whales, turtles, sharks, and dolphins to deep-sea corals, hydrothermal vents, and, experts believe, a variety of undiscovered sea life.
Today the high seas face increasing threats from human activities, including fishing, pollution, and seabed mining, but there is no comprehensive conservation mechanism in place to protect the biodiversity that thrives in these waters and maintain a healthy ocean.
That could soon change. From March 25 to April 5, governments will reconvene at United Nations headquarters in New York to continue negotiations on the first treaty to protect the high seas by 2020.
The waters off the coast of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula are part of Canada’s newest marine protected area (MPA). Official protection of the area has been a long time coming, with efforts to have the peninsula designated having started in 2011. This week, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson made it official.