Executive Summary for July 21st

In this weekly roundup, we review the latest ocean news as United Nations talks over a high seas biodiversity near an end, Sylvia Earle urges U.N. delegates to take action on ocean preservation, and a robot is deployed to fight invasive lionfish.

Published on July 21, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

High Seas Biodiversity Talks Down to the Wire

After two weeks of negotiations to push forward an international treaty to preserve the biodiversity of the high seas, delegates at the United Nations were still haggling over key details as the final day of talks neared.

The fourth and final “Preparatory Committee” negotiations are designed to hash out the elements of a treaty. The expectation has been that when the “PrepCom” session ends on Friday, July 21, a recommendation will be issued to the U.N. General Assembly to convene an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in 2018 to negotiate the specific language of an accord.

But familiar fault lines have emerged between North and South, developed and developing nations, over the creation of marine protected areas, the sharing of marine genetic resources, the use of environmental impact assessments and the transfer of marine technology.

The underlying philosophical divide comes down to whether the high seas should be considered “the common heritage of mankind” and equitably shared versus a “freedom of the seas” ethos that places fewer restrictions on nations’ actions.

For instance, the creation of marine reserves – widely seen as one of the most effective ways to protect biodiversity and restore depleted fisheries – has become a sticking point. China, Japan and other countries have argued that marine protected areas should be terminated or modified when specific objectives are achieved, rather than make the reserves permanent. And while the G77 group of developing nations and environmental groups support the creation of a global decision-making body to govern marine reserves, Russia and other nations do not.

Russia also does not want PrepCom to specifically recommend that an IGC be held in 2018 to negotiate the terms of a treaty.

At a reception held Tuesday evening, some environmental advocates expressed concern that PrepCom would end with a watered-down report to the General Assembly. But Liz Karan, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s campaign to protect ocean life on the high seas, was more optimistic.

“I think everyone is working very hard to reach consensus, but there may be some late nights ahead of us,” she on Thursday at the U.N., where she was observing the negotiations. “The pressure is on to wrap this up and take the issue to the next level at the IGC.

Sylvia Earle Lays Down Her Law of the Sea

They don’t call Sylvia Earle “Her Deepness” for nothing.

As negotiations over an international treaty to protect the diversity of the high seas dragged on this week at the United Nations, the renowned oceanographer appeared at a Tuesday reception held across the street by the High Seas Alliance.

“Everybody on the planet needs the high seas,” Earle, 81, told the gathering. “If you like to breathe, you need the high seas. If you like the water that falls magically out of the sky, you need the high seas. It’s half the world. It’s where most of the ocean is; it’s where most of life on Earth is. Why is there even the slightest bit of debate about taking care of that important part of the planet?”

And taking a dig at Mars colonization enthusiasts – paging Elon Musk – she said, “There’s so much buzz these days about, ‘Oh, we’ll send people up to Mars,’ an alternative when we use up all the things that are dying down here on Earth, that make Earth inhospitable.”

“The best chance we will ever have is right here on this blue planet,” she added.

A Lionfish-Eating Roomba

Colin Angle, the inventor of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, has created an underwater robot that hunts down and stuns the voraciously invasive lionfish, according to Fast Company.

The robot, called Guardian, then sucks the lionfish into its body to return to the surface. The lionfish, which has devastated native fish populations in the Caribbean, can be sold to restaurants. Guardian can collect as many as 10 lionfish at a time.

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