Opinion: An international agreement to protect the Galapagos islands
The high seas treaty, which is being negotiated at the UN, could help countries like Ecuador protect themselves from harmful activities that take place outside their maritime zones
SEP 25, 2020 – 06:02 CDT
Recently, a huge industrial fishing fleet of more than 330 vessels has been operating in international waters near Ecuador’s world-famous Galapagos Islands Marine Reserve, raising international concern about the impact on the reserve’s extraordinary marine life and the local economy, which depends on fishing and tourism.
In July, a “mini-city” of fishing vessels, as well as transport, storage and supply vessels, was discovered along the border of Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has called consultations with other Latin American countries, including Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica, in order to develop a joint regional strategy in response to the threat.
How could the new global high seas treaty help countries protect themselves against this growing problem? Ecuador has few options under current international law to address the huge accumulated industrial operation just outside its jurisdictional waters. This is because the legal regime governing human activities in international waters consists of an inconsistent mosaic,
Outdated and ineffective agreements and arrangements that fall short of effectively addressing the modern challenges posed by mobile industrial fishing fleets, huge islands of plastic waste, increased maritime traffic, seabed mining, pollution acoustics and chemistry and of course the warming, deoxygenation and acidification of the oceans related to climate change.
A new treaty to modernize and strengthen the conservation and management of human activities in the international waters of the high seas, which make up nearly two-thirds of the global ocean and cover nearly half of our planet’s surface, is currently under negotiation at The United Nations. This new treaty, properly crafted, could go a long way towards improving the health and resilience of the ocean, and could provide countries like the mega-diverse Ecuador with better tools to protect themselves from activities that take place outside their maritime zones and that could significantly impact and affect the health, safety and resilience of its jurisdictional waters and the people whose livelihoods depend on them.
Specifically, the treaty could establish uniform basic requirements to assess and manage the harmful impacts of human activities in international waters, create marine protected areas that complement the conservation efforts of neighboring countries, and build capacity to empower developing countries to better protect and sustainably use the high seas.
In Ecuador’s situation, the new treaty could require a country sponsoring an activity to assess the likely effects of a massive fishing operation on the ocean, its wildlife, and fisheries both in Ecuador’s waters and in adjacent international seas. It could require that said operation be managed to avoid significant adverse effects on the marine spaces of Ecuador or the ocean in general, or even that it is not allowed to continue. Finally, it could establish a mechanism that allows Ecuador, or other potentially affected countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Chile, to request an international review of the operation.
The high seas are facing increasing pressures related to climate change, the expansion of industrial fishing fleets to meet the increasing demand for fish, the imminent prospect of large-scale mining on the ocean floor in search of rare earth minerals. , along with sonic pollution, oil, chemical and plastic pollution. All of these activities have the potential to cause significant adverse effects on the interests of the affected countries and communities, as well as the ocean as a whole.
As pressure mounts, the new high seas treaty could provide countries with important new tools to ensure that their interests are protected against potentially harmful activities outside their borders in international waters. Working together, Latin American countries could lead the way in ensuring that the new treaty provides robust requirements for the notification, assessment, and management of activities.
Read the article by Maximiliano Bello for El País at https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020-09-25/un-acuerdo-internacional-para-proteger-las-islas-galapagos.html
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