Who Owns the World's Oceans?

United Nations Moves To Oversee World's Oceans

In 1982 a United Nations treaty declared the world's oceans to be the common property of all humanity. That is an excellent idea. Now how will it be put into practice? Here are some starting steps being taken by the UN.

excerpts from a report by Thalif Deen

The General Assembly, the UN's highest policy making body, has decided to set up a new forum to coordinate international efforts to protect and preserve the world's oceans.

Officially designated as an open-ended UN Working Group, the consultative body will consist of all 188 member states who will meet once a year to oversee matters relating to the high seas, including mineral resources and marine environment.

''As we enter the next century, an internationally coordinated approach to protecting the world's oceans is essential to the health and well-being of the planet and human kind,'' says Matthew Gianni, campaign coordinator for Greenpeace International.

Gianni says that although 1998 was designated the ''UN Year of the Ocean'', it was the worst year on record for coral reef damage due to global climate change. Furthermore, he points out, overfishing by industrial fishing fleets, many operating illegally, continued to decimate many species of marine life such as tunas, cod, seabass, sharks, seabirds and sea turtles.

''The General Assembly's initiative (to set up a new forum) may well represent one of the most significant outcomes of the UN Year of the Ocean,'' he says. ''The world's oceans, however, face a myriad of threats from global climate change, overfishing, pollution and the destruction of the coastal habitat.

''Only a firm committment and concerted effort on the part of governments and the United Nations can we hope to prevent the further destruction of the ocean's biodiversity.''

Speaking on behalf of the 15-member European Union (EU), Marja Letho of Finland has underlined the importance of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, signed in December 1982.

The Convention resulted in the creation of two institutions: the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea in Germany and the International Seabed Authority in Jamaica.

Letho is concerned, however, about the number of attacks against ships and the increased use of violence in such attacks. Regional cooperation was essential to prevent such violence, she says.

Rex Horoi of Solomon Islands told the General Assembly that the peoples of the Pacific were custodians of more than 30 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean, approximately one twelfth of the planet's ocean and space.

The vast area, especially the Exclusive Economic Zone, represents the most significant source of economic wealth and security, he says.

For that reason, countries in that region are undertaking sustainable strategies to become more active participants in the development of the industry, and to enhance the region's share of the economic benefits from the ocean resources.

Horoi has expressed concern about illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the high seas. In that context, there is a need for the coordination of international efforts in the management of the oceans, he says.


The full story was distributed by InterPress Service.

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