NEW YORK (United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea/DOALOS) ― A working group established by the United Nations General Assembly will meet from 28 April to 2 May in New York to consider possible steps that countries and intergovernmental organizations can take to conserve and manage marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The one-week meeting will discuss the environmental impacts of human activities on marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction, and will examine possible management methods. It will also address issues relating to marine genetic resources in those areas and discuss whether there is a legal or governance gap that needs to be addressed.

The General Assembly set up the Working Group three years ago in response to growing interest and concern within the international community on issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, both within and beyond areas of national jurisdiction. Marine ecosystems are essential to a healthy environment and also contribute significantly to human well-being. At the same time, the impacts posed by human activities to marine ecosystems, including those in areas outside the jurisdiction of any state, are raising increasing concerns.

At that time, the Working Group was asked to survey the past and present activities of the United Nations and other relevant international organizations with regard to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity on the high seas; examine the scientific, technical, economic, legal, environmental, socio-economic and other aspects of these issues; identify key issues and questions where more detailed background studies would facilitate consideration by States of these issues; and indicate, where appropriate, possible options and approaches for action.

Meeting for the first time in February 2006, the Working Group agreed that the General Assembly has a primary role in addressing these issues, while also recognizing the essential role of other organizations, processes and instruments within their respective competence.

The Group also reiterated that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out the legal framework for all activities in the oceans and seas, and stressed the need to implement the precautionary and ecosystem approaches using the best available science and prior environmental impact assessments. The need to address destructive fishing practices and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing was also recognized as was the importance of area-based management tools, such as marine protected areas.

The Working Group agreed at that time that more study was needed to determine whether there are governance gaps in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction and to further discuss the legal status of marine biological diversity in those areas, including genetic resources. The Group also called for enhancing coordination and cooperation within and among all relevant actors in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in those areas. Cooperation was considered particularly important in relation to marine scientific research and capacity building.

The upcoming meeting of the Working Group will provide a unique opportunity to continue discussions among States, inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations in order to identify areas of convergence to be built upon for progress towards the enhanced conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.


Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (Convention on Biological Diversity, article 2). The diversity among biological resources, which include genetic resources, organisms or parts thereof, populations, or any other biotic component of ecosystems with actual or potential use or value for humanity, makes up biodiversity.

Marine areas beyond national jurisdiction comprise the high seas and the Area. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the high seas as “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone, in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State” (article 86). The Area is defined as “the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction” (article 1).

Relevant documents

General Assembly resolutions: A/RES/59/24, A/RES/60/30, A/RES/61/222, A/RES/62/215
Secretary-General reports: A/60/63/Add.1; A/62/66/Add.2
Provisional agenda of the meeting: A/AC/276/L.1
Report of the previous meeting of the Working Group (2006): 61/65

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