Seventy-four per cent agreed that ‘There? needs to be one organisation?with overall responsibility for?protecting international?waters and the life in them’, while 12 per cent disagreed.
Currently, no organisation has overall responsibility for conservation in the high seas – the internationally governed and managed part of the ocean that covers nearly half of the world’s surface.
Respondents also over-estimated the proportion of the high seas that is protected. Sixty-one percent thought that more than a quarter is protected; the real figure is less than 1%.
‘These results show there is real public concern about the lack of protection for life in the high seas,’ said Cristina Narbona, former Environment Minister of Spain and a member of the Global Ocean Commission.
‘We know that many marine species are in sharp decline because of issues such as destructive fishing and climate change, and clearly the public feels there needs to be some mechanism for protecting it.
‘On land, we have national parks to conserve wildlife and provide people with sustainable livelihoods; why aren’t we doing the same in the ocean?’
The Global Ocean Commission is an independent high-level panel aiming to reverse the trajectory of decline in the ocean and restore it to full health and sustainable productivity.
The high seas are managed under a ‘patchwork’ regime, with separate organisations managing industries such as shipping, fisheries and seabed mining. None of these organisations has overall responsibility for conserving nature, and in most of the high seas there is no clear legal mechanism for establishing protected areas.
‘If you go back half a century, this wasn’t too much of a problem because we didn't really use the high seas,’ said Robert Hill, the former Australian Defence and Environment Minister who was instrumental in persuading the United Nations to set up a working group on high seas biodiversity and is now a member of the Global Ocean Commission.
‘But increasing demand for resources such as fish and our increasing technological capacity to catch them in industrial quantities have changed that paradigm; high seas biodiversity is now absolutely a major issue.
‘Scientists, concerned citizens and some of us in politics have been arguing for years that we need to do better; and our survey shows that the public worldwide shares our concern.’
More than 12% of the Earth’s land area is protected. In 2010, governments committed to protect 10% of the entire ocean by 2020 – but the figure so far is 2.3 per cent, and only a fraction of that is in the high seas.
Another survey result, released in March, showed that 85% of the global public believes the high seas should be sustainably managed, while only five per cent do not.
‘Increasingly we are seeing a public mandate emerge for the Global Ocean Commission’s mission,’ said José María Figueres, the former Costa Rican President and Co-chair of the Commission.
‘That’s partly because science is showing us that the deep ocean isn’t a desert for life, as people used to assume; scientists are turning up new species virtually every time they go searching.
‘Each and every one of those species is part of the marine web of life, which supplies us with necessities such as oxygen and food, while also protecting us from climate change; we neglect it at our peril.’
The Global Ocean Commission released the survey results on the eve of the Third International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC-3) in Marseille and Ajaccio, France, on 21-27 October, at which Dr Narbona will be speaking.
The results will feed into the Commission’s work of developing a set of ambitious yet pragmatic recommendations that will be released by the middle of 2014.