Covering two thirds of the ocean’s surface and making up 90 per cent of our planet’s marine environment, most of the ocean falls under the definition of the ‘high and deep seas’.
The ‘high and deep seas’ describes the area of our ocean which lies either beyond the national boundaries of coastal countries or below 200m in depth.
This expansive area of our ocean is home to some of the last marine wildernesses, and some of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. These rich ecosystems nurture coastal habitats and fisheries relied upon by billions, and support critical planet-wide systems.
Image: International Waters. Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 CL
The High and Deep Seas include little-known cold-water coral reefs, colossal deep-sea mountains that teem with life, and the migration corridors where many marine mammals and pelagic species spend most of their lives. The organisms that make up these myriad ecosystems are responsible for supporting and regulating critical planet-wide systems, such as nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and the production of around half the oxygen on the planet.
Although these ecosystems lie far from our everyday activities, decades of poorly regulated and expanding fishing, dumping, and shipping, along with the rise of climate change, have meant that there are now no reaches of the ocean which are unaffected by humanity. Despite this, our analysis found that only one per cent of marine conservation grants from trusts and foundations went to projects on the high and deep seas.*
There are three key challenges for our high and deep-sea ecosystems:
Poor governance: As the high seas lie beyond national jurisdiction, they are governed only by out-dated regulations laid out by the United Nations which provide very few protections for biodiversity. Advocacy that works well at a national level needs to be re-structured to deal effectively with governance of global commons.
Lack of knowledge: Very little research has been done on the ecosystems of the high and deep seas, and the impacts of human activities on them. This makes it incredibly difficult to manage activities sustainably.
Lack of philanthropic funding: The complex and distant nature of this work acts as a barrier to many potential funders. This means that civil society is challenging unregulated resource extraction with very limited means.
While these challenges are not unique to high and deep seas ecosystems, they are exacerbated by the fact that the activities which degrade the ocean remain largely out of sight, hidden beneath its surface.
*From an analysis of over 1,000 marine conservation grants from trusts and foundations between 2006 and 2010.