Protecting marine biodiversity:

International agreements and initiatives

Jon Nevill                                                                                             January 2006

International commitments to protect the planet's biodiversity, including marine biodiversity, can be found in many global and regional agreements. Among the most important of the global agreements are: 
* the Stockholm Declaration 1972 (UN Conference on the Human Environment); 
* the World Charter for Nature 1982 (a resolution of the United Nations General
   Assembly (UNGA)); 
* the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS);
* the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) 1982. 
* the Rio Declaration 1992 (UN Conference on Environment and Development), 
* the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, 
* the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries 1995, and 
* the Johannesburg Declaration 2002 (UN World Summit on Sustainable Development).

The planet's nation-states have in some cases acted relatively quickly to implement parts of these agreements, especially where economic benefits to particular nations are in question. The establishment of 200 km Exclusive Economic Zones (under UNCLOS) is a good example. Some nations, such as Australia, have 'established' EEZs around their Antarctic 'territories' even though the validity of the territories themselves is not universally recognised - clearly an enthusiastic implementation of international law. 

In other instances nations have been remarkably slow to implement important commitments. For example, commitments to protect representative examples of all major ecosystems date from 1972, yet Australia only moved to implement this commitment in relation to the marine environment in the early 1990s.  The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, often cited as a world leader in marine conservation, only commenced its Representative Area Program in 2002 - thirty years after the initial commitment. The situation regarding freshwater environments is even more extreme, with New Zealand so far the only nation to establish a systematic program to implement its commitment to protect representative freshwater ecosystems.

International commitments to the precautionary principle also date back at least to 1982; however, over two decades later, clear examples of its application to the protection of the marine environment are few.

The most important vehicles for international programs and initiatives in regard to protection of the marine environment are: 
* International conventions sponsored by the United Nations;
* Regional agreements sponsored by the United Nations (eg: fisheries agreements);
* Decadal global conferences on environment sponsored by the United Nations;
* Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly.

Large international Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) - such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) or WWF-International - seek to influence these vehicles. Various global and national agencies - such as the FAO - also seek to influence these vehicles, along with international industry lobby groups and nation-state groupings.


United Nations International Law;   UNGA Resolutions;  

IUCN (World Conservation Union)
Resolutions of the World Conservation Congress 2004: of special note are:
3.036: Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
3.064: Conservation and sustainable management of high seas biodiversity.
3.065: A landscape/seascape approach to conservation.
3.066: The protection of seamounts, deep sea corals and other vulnerable deep sea habitats
          from destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, on the high seas. 
3.067: Strengthening stakeholder participation in fisheries management.
3.068: Undersea noise pollution.
3.069: Status of floating atomic power stations in the world's oceans.
3.075: Applying the precautionary principle in environmental decision-making.

Recommendations of the World Parks Congress 2003.
5.22:  Building a global system of marine and coastal protected area networks.
5.23:  Protecting marine biodiversity and ecosystem processes through marine protected
         areas beyond national jurisdiction.