You can’t see her, but she is there. She is vast and she is constant and she is endangered. The offshore body of our oceans lies 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast and makes up 64% of the global oceans. We have a duty to protect these waters and a number of people made that abundantly clear on Wednesday 11 April, when they gathered at the Hemicycle du Palais d’Iena to launch the “The Paris Appeal for our Oceans”.
Catherine Chabaud, the first woman to race a yacht around the world single-handed and a member of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council and of Tara Expeditions spearheads this campaign.
The launch kicked off with a day of conferences backed by UNESCO that united non-governmental organisations, underwater scientists and industrialists, and politicians. Speakers from all corners of the globe attended, including Brasil, Colombia, Europe and the United States amongst others, putting the debate on a global scale.
Their goal? A call to action and to discuss the future of the world’s oceans.
If you push off from the coast and head straight out to sea for 200 nautical miles* you will sail out of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is governed by national law and reach international waters, also known as offshore.
After the 200 nautical miles, this area of the ocean is considered to be common to all. No state has the right to exert authority; anyone can fish, navigate, or lay cables and pipe lines. Only the seabed and beneath the seabed are regulated by the International Seabed Authority.
Offshore is categorised as a free zone, as established by the member countries of the United Nations at the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea at Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1982 – 31 years ago. Since then, in the absence of any real international authority, this free zone has become a lawless place open to uncontrolled and uncontrollable exploitation. Our offshore waters are falling victim to human activity: pollution, maritime traffic, climate change and exploitation of resources.
A tragedy when you think that our oceans cover more than half of the planet and guarantee its balance. The oceans regulate our very existence, allowing us to breath and to live in bearable temperatures. Our oceans are alive with marine creatures and home to species that we haven’t even imagined, let alone discovered yet.
Today mankind covets oceans for other reasons; he has his eye on its abundant mineral, energy and biological treasures – this despite full awareness of their limited quantity. How then do we continue to benefit from these free zones without an international legal framework being put in place?
This is a warning call, but also a call to decision makers in the international community to put protection and management measures in place and vote them into practice at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014.
Because our oceans are our business and the obligation to protect them has no boundaries.
* The EEZ can be extended to 350 nautical miles from the coast line, depending of geological criterias.