On Tuesday, October 10th, we welcomed two inspiring speakers to our event Beyond the Horizon to tell us some of the untold stories of the high and deep seas. These vast regions constitute almost two-thirds of the surface area of the ocean and 90% of our planet’s marine environment but remain, for the most part, out of sight and out of mind.
Anna Heath, Synchronicity Earth’s High and Deep Seas Programme lead, spoke passionately about the wonder and mystery of the high and deep seas and why they need better protection. She introduced our first speaker, Mirella von Lindenfels (High Seas Alliance & Deep Sea Conservation Coalition), who made a heartfelt and compelling case for protecting the planet’s blue spaces that lie outside national jurisdiction. The ocean is fundamental to our health and wellbeing, to every breath we take, and home to a kaleidoscopic array of natural wonders and as yet undiscovered species. We need to rethink our relationship to the high and deep seas, and creating a system of effective governance is a challenging yet crucial step in the fight to protect these vital areas. Mirella underlined how the work of groups like the High Seas Alliance and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition is instrumental in ensuring that a long overdue system of governance and regulation is put in place which will allow these often overlooked but vital regions to get the protection they need.
Ian Urbina, an investigative journalist with the New York Times, described the extraordinary and harrowing work he has undertaken over the past few years to document the human side of the story on the high and deep seas with his Outlaw Ocean series. His stories of trafficking, slavery and murder taking place far from the world’s attention brought home the devastating human impact of our quest to plunder more and more of the ocean.
Stories of social justice and human suffering on the high seas, on the one hand, and threats to marine biodiversity and ocean health on the other, may appear unrelated, but scratch the surface and the links between them start to become clear.
With Beyond the Horizon, our aim was to highlight the threads linking human rights abuses on the high seas with the wider environmental context. Around 90 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are either fully or over-exploited (UNFAO), so the pressure to stay out longer and fish further and deeper means that many industrial fishing vessels can act with impunity, outside national jurisdiction and free from regulation and oversight. The backdrop to much of the slavery, kidnapping and murder which Ian described is an unfolding ecological disaster.
Mirella stressed the importance of developing a governance and regulatory framework for the high and deep seas to counter the loss of biodiversity and fragile ecosystems in the high and deep seas. Listening to stories like Ian’s make this all the more vital – if the ocean beyond national jurisdiction remains a lawless, unprotected free-for-all, the human rights abuses will continue and get worse.
Beyond the Horizon was thought-provoking and at times shocking, but it did also provide hope. Armed with the right knowledge, supported by increasingly well coordinated alliances and strategies, and with the help of innovative awareness-raising campaigns, we believe that the tide can start to turn. The work of groups supported by Synchronicity Earth, and the impact of brilliant reporting like Outlaw Ocean can help to bring about change. There is a growing awareness of issues affecting our oceans such as plastic pollution and coral reef bleaching. Perhaps the high and deep seas, so far beyond the horizon and beneath the surface, represent the final blue frontier. Help us get them up the agenda!