Countries to Consider Protection, Management Measures for Ocean Biodiversity at United Nations Headquarters 31 May-3 June

31 May 2011

Countries to Consider Protection, Management Measures for Ocean Biodiversity at United Nations Headquarters 31 May-3 June

31 May 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Countries to Consider Protection, Management Measures for Ocean Biodiversity


at United Nations Headquarters 31 May-3 June


A United Nations General Assembly-mandated Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction will meet in New York from 31 May-3 June.

With the world’s oceans facing mass extinctions of marine life due to the accumulated and combined impacts of overfishing, pollution and climate change, among others, the group — the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group — will discuss what measures can be developed or strengthened in order to improve the management, conservation and protection of biodiversity in the high seas and the international seabed.

The discussions are expected to focus, in particular, on marine genetic resources, marine protected areas, and environmental impact assessments.  Delegates will examine the scientific, technical, economic, legal, environmental, socio-economic and other aspects of these issues, and are expected to indicate possible approaches to promote international cooperation and coordination on those issues.

While there has been some progress in recent years on conserving and managing ocean biodiversity and resources, countries have generally recognized that the implementation of the existing international legal and policy framework needs strengthening.  But there are significantly divergent views among countries regarding the need for an implementing agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to address gaps in implementation in the long term.

Conserving and managing biodiversity in the high seas and the international seabed is particularly complex because such areas are considered a “global commons”.  Because the biological resources in these areas can be exploited freely by everyone, there is limited incentive to conserve and sustainably use those resources. 

While the impacts of most human activities, such as overfishing and pollution, are most acute in coastal areas, many of these activities have had major impacts further from shore.  The collapse of shallow water fish stocks, the development of new technologies to explore and exploit seabed resources, the search for new alternative sources of energy, and more stringent regulation of certain activities in areas under national jurisdiction have all lead to an increase of activities in the high seas and the international seabed.

Oceans cover close to three-quarters of the planet and an estimated 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity lives in the oceans.  A quarter of the world’s population relies on seafood as their primary source of protein, and as population grows — it is expected to reach 7 billion later this year and 9 billion before 2050 — human reliance on ocean ecosystems will increase.

“Our efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity must match the scale and magnitude of the challenges that it faces,” the Secretary-General has emphasized inhis report for the meeting.  There are virtually no marine areas that have not yet been affected by human activities.  In the past, according to the Census of Marine Life, the most serious human impacts on the deep seas were due to the disposal of waste and litter; but today, overfishing, hydrocarbon and mineral extraction are having the greatest impacts.  Climate change, it was predicted, will have the most effects in the future.

Climate change has already caused major changes in the oceans.  For example, fish populations are moving towards the poles, and tropical oceans become comparatively less biologically diverse.  Ocean acidification, caused by the absorption of large amounts of carbon dioxide in the oceans, is weakening the ability of shellfish, corals and marine phytoplankton to form their skeletons, threatening to undermine marine food webs as well as reef structures.

Increasing nutrient loads and pollution are expanding coastal dead zones, which already cover 245,000 square kilometres of the world’s oceans.  And, with increased transport of goods by sea, globalization creates more damage from alien invasive species transported in ship ballast water.

“The convening of the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil in 2012 presents a timely opportunity for the General Assembly to provide the policy guidance required … for the benefit of present and future generations,” concluded the Secretary-General in his report.

More information on the session can be found at

For further information, please contact Dan Shepard, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.: +1 212 963 9405; e-mail:

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.