“Ladies and gentlemen, the ship has reached the coast”

This is how Rena Lee, president of the UN Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity, announced the news of the year in the maritime world.

The now famous phrase was uttered on March 4, 2023 prior to the announcement of the adoption of the agreement for the protection of Ocean Areas outside National Jurisdiction , which establishes the legal bases for the protection of 30% of the international waters of our oceans for the year 2030.

This agreement, adopted unanimously by the 193 countries that make up the UN, will imply the approval of the so-called “Global Ocean Treaty” and will involve the protection of biodiversity beyond the jurisdictional waters of each country, establishing Marine Protected Areas ( AMP).

In fact, the sovereignty that each coastal state can exercise reaches up to the limits of the exclusive economic zone, which are delimited at a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, made in Montego Bay on December 10, 1982.

It is precisely this 1982 agreement, the last international agreement that establishes jurisdictional limits in the oceans, which is why it was more than necessary to adopt a global agreement that would respond to the new reality regarding the exploitation of the seabed and the status legal status that international waters receive, which due to lack of coordination and regulatory adequacy have been managed to date as the “Wild West”.

Likewise, the aforementioned treaty also establishes the obligation to carry out environmental impact assessments for any activity on the high seas that has a substantial effect on marine ecosystems, with the exception of scientific projects.


The adoption of this agreement responds to a widespread concern on the part of the scientific community, institutions and civil society to regulate human intervention in international waters (high seas), given the worrying deterioration of marine ecosystems as a result of neglect and neglect for years.

It is paradoxical to think that humanity knows the limits of our solar system in greater detail than the depths of our oceans, despite the fact that they cover 71% of the planet’s surface, create half of the oxygen we breathe and are the habitat of the 20% of the animals on which the world population feeds.

The great threats facing high sea ecosystems are unregulated exploitation of resources, overfishing, acidification and especially maritime pollution in its different variants.

It is for this reason that, in order to summarize in a schematic way the different forms of human pressure on high seas marine ecosystems, we propose the following table that will serve as a guide to the most polluting activities.


The agreement will be definitively adopted once it has been reviewed and translated into the six official UN languages, so it may still undergo some modifications. In fact, some members, such as Russia, did not rule out requesting tweaks on some points. China, for its part, is trying to give itself veto power, also so that the future governing body determines the protected areas that will be created by consensus instead of by majority vote.

Once this milestone has been passed, the treaty must be ratified by each country and officially adopted into the legal system (national legislation).

In the case of Spain, as in the majority of legal systems of continental tradition, once ratified the treaty will achieve full validity and effectiveness, being incorporated directly and with immediate effects without its transposition being necessary (art 96 Spanish Constitution and art 30 of Law 25/2014, of November 27).


1. Apart from the pressures exerted by the main world powers to ensure their predominant role in the world economy and geopolitics, one of the most conflictive aspects is that of the distribution of benefits from “marine genetic resources” insofar as the countries with fewer resources to fund research, they do not want to be excluded from the potential profits that could result from the discovery and commercialization of hitherto unknown marine substances.

2. It is worth understanding the great difficulties in establishing effective cooperation between different countries that allows control of the activities carried out on the high seas, especially polluting activities and the irregular exploitation of biological, mining and fishing resources.

In this sense, the implementation of new technologies can make possible some of the proposals that we make for their implementation:

  • Aerial and satellite tracking systems for vessels on the high seas.
  • Fluid controls through the implementation of an international monitoring registry.
  • International mandatory use of GPS (AIS) systems for all vessels (24/7) 365 days a year.
  • Coordination between port authorities and administrations involved in the different countries.
  • Physical controls and inspections in international and port waters.
  • Creation of a high seas authority with its own fleet

3. Finally, the main difficulty in the implementation of this treaty is time, since we are in a race against time and the process of adoption and implementation of a treaty of such magnitude can last for years.

For this reason, the speed with which this entry into force and its implementation occurs will be crucial if we take into account the eminent risks that marine diversity and humanity itself face, so there is no time to lose!

Author: Felipe Serrano Pérez

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