U.N. agrees on landmark treaty to protect marine life

A sea turtle in the Indian Ocean.
(Image credit: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The United Nations on Saturday agreed to a historic treaty to protect marine life and biodiversity in the world's oceans. The accord marks a long-awaited milestone in a years-long effort to safeguard the planet's seas.

The U.N. said the new High Seas Treaty "would place 30 percent of the world's oceans into protected areas, put more money into marine conservation, and covers access to and use of marine genetic resources." The treaty will "put limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep-sea mining," BBC News added.

The high seas — every area that lies 200 nautical miles beyond a nation's territorial waters — are often called "the world's last true wilderness," CNN notes. They make up more than 60 percent of the world's oceans.

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The first international legislation to protect the oceans, called the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, was penned in 1982, and its provisions were updated in 1994. Efforts to renegotiate these protections have been repeatedly stalled over the last few decades, The Associated Press reported, mainly due to disagreements within the U.N. over funding and protections for the fishing industry.

The treaty represents a major landmark in the conservation efforts of the world's oceans. The 30 percent of the high seas that will now be covered is a major jump from the prior legislation, which protected just 1.2 percent of the oceans.

The new treaty comes as ocean life continues to face an existential crisis. A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released last December found that nearly 10 percent of global marine species were at risk of extinction.

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