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Story Text | International News
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U.N. countries agree to historic ocean protection treaty
“High seas” make up around 60 percent of our oceans. 
In March 2023, 200 United Nations member states agreed to a historic treaty to protect the Earth’s oceans. The treaty, known as the “high seas treaty,” has been in the works for almost two decades, and was finalized during two weeks of intense negotiations. How difficult do you think it would be to get 200 countries to agree to a treaty? 

The primary goal of this treaty is to protect marine wildlife in areas of the ocean known as “high seas.” Countries have legal control of the waters and sea floor up to 200 nautical miles off their coastlines. The oceans beyond the 200 miles are considered high seas. High seas cover over 60 percent of our oceans and aren’t controlled by anyone nation. As a result, monitoring and protecting them from commercial activities is difficult. Right now, only about 1.2 percent of these areas are protected. Why do you think protecting the high seas is such a challenge? Can you think of other ways to do it? 

But thanks to the new U.N. treaty, countries will now designate new marine protected areas like the two shown here. Marine protected areas are a lot like national parks. They are maintained by a country’s government and protected from commercial activities like fishing, and deep-sea mining. The new treaty will greatly expand the number of marine protected areas around the world. Now, the U.N. and its member states will have the difficult job of putting this treaty into action, a process that will likely take years. Why do you think protecting marine wildlife is so important? What else is important about our oceans?

The protections afforded by the U.N.’s high seas treaty will work to counter the major threats our oceans face today. What do you think the biggest threats to our oceans and marine life are? (Climate change, plastic pollution, and overfishing.) Of these threats, the most concerning is climate change. Warming water temperatures threaten marine life around the planet. Some coral reefs, for example, have already been severely damaged by warming waters. Reefs are vital ecosystems that serve as homes to millions of animals, but scientists say they could all disappear by 2100 if steps aren’t taken to limit the effects of climate change. 

Plastic pollution has a severe impact on marine wildlife as well. Humans throw nearly 14 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year. Why is this a problem? (Plastic takes a long time to biodegrade, or break down in nature.) Studies have shown that plastic pollution kills more than 1 million marine animals every year. 

Overfishing can do severe damage to fragile underwater ecosystems. What does overfishing mean? (Depleting the stock of fish in a body of water by too much fishing.) One study found that overfishing has caused ocean animal populations to go down by almost 50 percent between 1970 and 2012. And while these are all serious and challenging threats, the U.N. member states have shown they are willing to take drastic action to protect our oceans for generations to come.
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