The first significant steps towards legally protecting the high seas are to take place at the UN in New York.
These waters, defined as the open ocean far from coastlines, are threatened by deep-sea mining, over-fishing and the patenting of marine genetic resources.
Over the next two years, government representatives aim to hammer out a binding agreement to protect them against over-exploitation.
But several nations, including the US, are lukewarm towards the proposals.
Experts believe that the oceans of the world are vital for a number of reasons. Scientists say they capture around 90% of the extra heat and about 26% of the excess carbon dioxide created by humans through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities.
“The half of our planet which is high seas is protecting terrestrial life from the worst impacts of climate change,” said Prof Alex Rogers from Oxford University, UK, who has provided evidence to inform the UN treaty process getting under way on Tuesday.
“Yet we do too little to safeguard that or to protect the life within the ocean which is intrinsic to our collective survival.”
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