MarViva Foundation and the Sargasso Sea Commission are innovating with the first attempt to achieve governance in international waters. They occupy most of the ocean and are home to many important marine species. However, since international waters are not under the jurisdiction of any country, they are completely unprotected.
Data from the United Nations World Environment Program (UNEP) reveal that only 1% of international waters-or high seas- are under protection. In this context, and with the aim of contributing to the protection of marine biodiversity and the benefits it brings, an ambitious project is working on the development of appropriate governance models for the conservation and sustainable management of sensitive marine areas on the high seas, in the Thermal Dome and the Sargasso Sea.
The MarViva Foundation and the Sargasso Sea Commission are the executing agencies of the project, which will last for 5 years and has an investment of more than € 12 million. It will benefit governments whose Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) borders the Thermal Dome, that is, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and France, populations of Central America and the Caribbean, artisanal and sport fishing sectors, international community, among others.
The project is structured in 4 main components: co-management and coordination, ecosystem diagnostic analysis, governance models for ecosystem-based management, and capacity building and knowledge management. “This is an initiative of global interest because it requires many countries and organizations to work towards the same goal: the protection of marine biodiversity in areas outside national jurisdictions. We are innovating with the first attempt to achieve governance in the high seas, something that will be of great importance for the oceans, specifically the 63% that represents international waters”, explained Jorge Jiménez, general manager of FundaciónMarViva.
Areas of great relevance for the production, feeding, and migration of species
The Thermal Dome is an oceanographic phenomenon formed by trade winds and ocean currents that cause cold waters rich in nutrients to rise to the surface and cause an “oasis of productivity” of great importance for the ecosystems of the Central American Pacific. For its part, the Sargasso Sea constitutes a unique marine ecosystem that covers much of the North Atlantic and is essential habitat for multiple species, including numerous endemic species.
Despite the relevance of both areas for the reproduction, feeding and migration of important species of commercial interest, both food and tourism, as well as for carbon fixation to counteract the effects of climate change, these two regions have a high degree of threat generated from human activities such as marine traffic, fishing overexploitation, marine pollution, and climate change.
“Although at the land level we have done the homework, our oceans have been ignored, overexploited and unprotected for years, especially the marine spaces that do not belong to any country. This project seeks an effective governance and management scheme that allows the conservation and sustainable use of these ecosystems in the long term”, Jiménez concluded.