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Topic : High Seas Biodiversity Treaty

GS-3 Mains  : Environment Conservation

Revision Notes


  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) urges countries to strive for a fully functional High Seas Biodiversity Treaty.
  • World Oceans Day is celebrated on June 8th.

High Seas:

  • Areas of the ocean outside national jurisdiction (exclusive economic zones).
  • Not directly owned or regulated by any country.

The Treaty:

  • Adopted by the UN in June 2023.
  • Updates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1994).
  • Creates a framework for managing biodiversity beyond national borders.
  • 90 countries have signed, including India’s neighbors Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • Only 7 countries have ratified (not including India).

Focus Areas:

  • Marine genetic resources and benefit sharing.
  • Area-based management tools (marine protected areas).
  • Environmental impact assessments.
  • Capacity building and technology transfer for developing countries.

Key Provisions:

  • Area-Based Management Tools (ABMTs): Establish marine protected areas to conserve biodiversity hotspots.
  • Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs): Mandatory for activities in the high seas to minimize environmental harm.
  • Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs): Sets rules for access, sharing, and benefit-sharing of MGRs, including potential benefits for developing countries.
  • Capacity Building and Technology Transfer: Helps developing countries participate in high seas conservation and access relevant technologies.

Current Status:

  • Open for signatures until September 2025.
  • Enters into force 120 days after 60th ratification.


  • Implementation: Turning the treaty’s provisions into action requires detailed rules on environmental assessments, benefit-sharing, and funding.
  • Compliance: Ensuring all countries adhere to the treaty’s regulations is crucial.
  • Financing: Securing adequate funding for developing countries’ capacity building and technology transfer is a concern.
  • Unresolved Issues: Mechanisms for policing protected areas, fate of polluting projects, and dispute resolution remain unclear.


  • Global Governance: Fills a gap in international ocean governance.
  • Biodiversity Conservation: Protects marine life in critical areas for the planet’s health.
  • Sustainable Development: Promotes sustainable use of marine resources.
  • Equity: Addresses developing countries’ concerns about access and benefit-sharing of marine resources.

Importance for India:

  • Marine Biodiversity: Protects biodiversity in the high seas, linked to India’s own marine ecosystems.
  • Blue Economy: Facilitates India’s participation in activities like deep-sea mining and bioprospecting.
  • Global Leadership: India can play a role in shaping the treaty’s implementation and promoting sustainable ocean governance.

Way Forward:

  • Supporting all signatories in ratifying the treaty to bring it into force.
  • Increasing the number of countries ratifying the agreement on unsustainable fishing practices.


About UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea):

  • Adopted in 1982 and effective since 1994, UNCLOS sets the legal framework for all ocean activities.
  • India is a party to UNCLOS since 1995.

Key Features of UNCLOS:

  • Marine Zones: UNCLOS divides marine areas into five zones with varying degrees of national control:
    • Internal Waters: Fully under national sovereignty.
    • Territorial Sea: Extends 12 nautical miles from the coast. Coastal states have sovereignty but must allow “innocent passage” of foreign ships.
    • Contiguous Zone: Extends 24 nautical miles from the baseline. States have limited control for specific law enforcement purposes.
    • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ): Extends 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Coastal states have sovereign rights over resources and certain economic activities.
    • Continental Shelf: Can extend beyond 200 nautical miles if the seabed is a natural prolongation of the land territory. Coastal states have rights over non-living resources of the shelf.
    • High Seas (ABNJ): Areas beyond national jurisdiction. Open to all states, but subject to UNCLOS rules on freedom of navigation, overflight, fishing, etc.


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