New rules are urgently needed to protect life in the open seas, scientists have warned

Researchers at the University of Oxford have presented a report to the UN showing that more than 60% of the ocean lies out with national jurisdiction and as such lacks effective conservation measures.

The report highlights that the open ocean is at risk from climate change, over-fishing, deep-sea mining, farm pollution and plastics.

Dr Lucy Woodall said: “The function, complexity and connectivity of the oceans are highlighted in the report. It shows that the most remotes places on our planet are very relevant to our lives every day. Recognising the influence of the high seas it is important to ensure appropriate legal instruments are enacted”.

The Bay of Bengal in particular is deemed to be at a tipping point which could impact on global fish stocks. Nutrient levels are increasing in the Bay area due to run off from farmland fertilisers.  Nitrate, the nutrient most limiting to ocean productivity, acts to fertilise algae and encourage bacteria into the area, which subsequently increases oxygen capture.

Prof Alex Rogers said: “This is very, very important. A lot of states are looking towards developing industrial activities in the ocean – fishing, deep-sea mining, renewable energy… even aquaculture offshore. It’s really vital that we come to some international agreement on how to protect or manage biodiversity on high seas in the face of all these pressures.”

If oxygen levels in the Bay of Bengal decrease any further, the area is at risk of flipping to a ‘no oxygen’ status. This perversely results in a new bacteria arriving and removing nitrates from the water. De-nitrified water could then be carried away by ocean currents and reduce productivity elsewhere.

From the findings of the report, the UN are focussing on key areas to set up a legal framework for marine conservation on the high seas, under a new acronym: Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ).

To read more: