The Ocean Voices and Ocean Leaders programmes at The University of Edinburgh are taking the initiative to protect marine health and biodiversity through their research and outreach activities. For our ongoing ‘Climate and Health’ campaign, we are spotlighting their work.

View of the UN Conference Room

View of the UN Conference Room, Friday 3 March

The recently concluded Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) has been in the news for all the right reasons. On 4 March, marking the culmination of talks that began in 2004, the conference reached an agreement on creating what is known as the ‘High Seas Treaty’. The High Seas Treaty is a significant milestone and closely follows in the footsteps of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

Dr Harriet Harden-Davies, the director of the Nippon Foundation-University of Edinburgh Ocean Voices programme, who participated in the BBNJ, believes that the “treaty is about equity as much as it is about the environment”. She thinks the treaty can take several helpful steps in that direction through equity in distribution, improved access to funding, and adopting an equitable method of implementing the treaty. 

So, why is the UN High Seas Treaty so crucial?  

What makes the High Seas Treaty particularly historic is its commitment to protecting biodiversity across international waters through establishing key marine protected areas (MPAs) – covering around 30% of the ocean in their ambit.  

This is crucial. The high seas, at present, comprise over 60% of the oceans that lie beyond the national waters. Despite the High Seas making up a significant portion of the ocean area, the UNCLOS did not have provisions to include the high seas within its purview of protection. As a consequence, over 98% of the high seas biodiversity and ecosystem were left unprotected.  

In addition to protecting the high seas, the Treaty aims to achieve the following:  

  • Give poorer and developing countries a more significant stake in conservation by bolstering their research and development infrastructure while allowing them to access the biodiversity of the high seas.  
  • Facilitate the sharing of profits derived from the high seas organisms amongst the stakeholders.  
  • Make it easier to arrive at an agreement over the establishment of MPAs.  
  • Establish a forum for deliberations in collaboration with ocean authorities.  
  • Require complete ratification of the new uses of the high seas by subjecting them to rigorous environmental impact assessments.  

Ocean Voices and Ocean Leaders programmes at The University of Edinburgh.

The Ocean Voices and Ocean Leaders programmes at The University of Edinburgh are at the forefront of ocean and marine protection, spearheading the University’s contributions in this area.

Backed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and supported by the Nippon Foundation, the Ocean Voices programme is a diplomacy initiative dedicated to building capacity and connecting the voices of ocean-dependent people to ocean science and policy. They are working to meet the challenges of the UN Ocean Decade by strategically focussing on the interrelated areas of actionable research and knowledge exchange, environments for capacity development, and networking and communications. They are also committed to supporting early career ocean professionals from low- or middle-income countries through a carefully curated Fellowship programme that hosts several visiting fellows from across the globe.  

Hosted by The University of Edinburgh and financially supported by the University, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Baillie Gifford, and other organisations and individuals, the Edinburgh Ocean Leaders is designed to accelerate the leadership, creativity and influence of exceptional ocean professionals working together to make a significant impact on the health of the World’s oceans. The overall goal of EOL is to create and sustain a life-long network of ocean change-makers. Towards this, the programme supports leadership training, mentoring, professional development and online networking opportunities. This typically includes: a series of remote and face-to-face coaching dialogues; an annual induction event and meeting; a joint field mission; and engagement with international ocean initiatives to help shape tangible pathways into action.  

Group of people at Ocean Voices - UN BBNJ Negotiations

Ocean Voices team at UN BBNJ Negotiations