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 Item Date2003-12-15
 TitleTowards a Strategy for High Seas Marine Protected Areas 
 SourceWorld Wildlife Fund
 PrecisVast expanses of ocean lie beyond the jurisdiction of coastal nations. They include some of the least explored and rarely studied areas on earth, as well as some of the most intensively exploited and heavily degraded environments. This contrast presents a challenge to those interested in safeguarding the marine biodiversity of the High Seas.

Marine Protected Areas are one of the tools being used to restore, safeguard and halt negative impacts on the biodiversity of the oceans. This year, in the build up to the V th IUCN World Parks Congress (8-17 September 2003, Durban, South Africa), IUCN, WCPA and WWF conducted a workshop on High Seas Marine Protected Areas from 15 to 17 January 2003 in Malaga, Spain. The aim was to develop an action plan to promote a system of such areas to ensure long-term protection of ecosystem processes, biological diversity and productivity beyond national jurisdiction. The workshop was made possible through a Planning Grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

By far the largest habitat for life on earth, making up almost 80% of available volume compared to the 0.5% covered by land, oceans are the cradles of new species, habitats and undiscovered ecosystems; providing 10 to 20 % of total commercial fish catch and containing significant mineral resources. Yet these areas do not feature in a global representative protected areas system. In light of the increasing pressure on high seas resources, particularly seamounts and other seabed features vulnerable to the very serious impacts of benthic trawling for deep water fish stocks, the disappearance of fully 90% of large predatory fish populations, as well as the cumulative impact of human activities on the high seas environment, IUCN, WCPA and WWF have initiated a joint project to promote the development of a representative network of marine protected areas (MPAs) for the High Seas.

In 1988, IUCN established a program to promote a global system of MPAs. In 2000, at the World Conservation Congress, IUCN members adopted a resolution calling on IUCN to explore an appropriate range of tools including High Seas MPAs. In 2001, WWF, WCPA and IUCN commissioned a report entitled The Status of Natural Resources on the High Seas that assessed threats to high seas resources and reviewed some of the legal and political considerations involved in high seas conservation efforts, particularly the establishment of MPAs. These milestones fed into the High Seas Marine Protected Areas Workshop that was held in Malaga, Spain from 15-17 January. The workshop was attended by 40 leading experts on various aspects of high seas conservation.

High Seas and MPAs will be one of the key themes of the 2003 IUCN World Parks Congress. This ten-yearly event is the major global forum for protected areas. It offers a unique opportunity to take stock of protected areas; provide an honest appraisal of progress and setbacks; and chart the course for protected areas over the next decade and beyond. For more information on the 2003 IUCN World Parks Congress, please consult

IUCN, WCPA and WWF would like to thank the J.M. Kaplan Fund for their generous support that has enabled the expansion of the joint High Seas Biodiversity and Protected Areas Project. WWF would like to additionally thank Wallenius Lines for their support.
"...the great and long iron of the wondrychoun [trawl] runs so heavily over the ground when fishing that it destroys the flowers of the land below the water there..." - Commons petition to the King of England, 1376