High Seas treaty can help preserve healthy oceans for generations to come


Doug McCauley

Growing up, Doug McCauley loved the sea so much that he worked as a fisherman throughout high school and during the summers while studying at the University of California at Berkeley. Today, McCauley, assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), is a leading scholar in ocean conservation, ecology and science Datas.

Most recently, he led a team of scientists commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts to identify marine areas of outstanding biological and ecological value, which resulted in the report. A path towards the creation of the first generation of protected areas in the high seas.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: What is your earliest memory of the ocean?

A: Catch a fish on a pier. A Pacific mackerel. While the others on the pier weren’t necessarily in awe, this experience connected me to a strange underwater world full of savagery that I immediately fell in love with and really wanted to understand better.

Q: How did this first experience shape your career as a scientist?

A: My science today is still trying to ensure that the wilderness and beauty that I bonded to as a child – and that fed me and helped pay the bills as a young adult – remain alive and healthy in our ocean for many more generations.

Q: Why should people care more about the health of our global ocean?

A: He gives us every breath we take. You could start and end the answer here, I guess.

Q: But there is more.

A: Right. The ocean is also our refrigerator full of wild foods raised in the wild, a tremendous source of beauty and inspiration in our lives, and an important source of employment and wealth for communities like mine.

I think we also don’t realize how intimately our own health is related to the health of the ocean. Take nutrition, for example: Seafood is the only true source of quality nutrition for hundreds of millions of people and helps prevent many serious illnesses associated with malnutrition in children and adults.

Q: One of the most important ocean conservation efforts underway is to enter into a legally binding treaty to protect the high seas, the vast expanses of ocean that are not under the jurisdiction of any particular country. What can you tell us about life on the high seas?

A: My team and I at UCSB have had the privilege of participating in a truly exciting effort with scientists from 13 universities and institutions to answer the question of which areas of the high seas should be protected first. We’ve synthesized information from over 20 billion data points on ocean wildlife and how people use the ocean to try to find high seas biodiversity hotspots worth protecting. We were delighted to find oases of ocean life in many areas of the high seas. And they were special for different reasons: some were underwater mountains covered with corals, others were mecca for whales and turtles. , and some were rare, species-rich shallow-water coral reefs and seagrass meadows that sprang up out of nowhere in the middle of the high seas.

Doug McCauley, carrying his gear to Padaro Beach in Santa Barbara County, California, uses drones and artificial intelligence to predict great white shark activity to inform conservation efforts and help coastal communities to enjoy the ocean safely.
Doug McCauley

Q: The idea of ​​marine protected areas, or MPAs, on the high seas is that they can improve ocean health while still supporting communities where livelihoods depend on a thriving marine environment. Is it correct?

A: High seas MPAs act like underwater savings accounts. Within an MPA, protected populations, such as fish, thrive and grow. And these healthy and expanding populations are spilling over the boundaries of the MPA itself into areas where these fish can be fished, such as savings account interest. Thus, MPAs become a victory for both people and biodiversity.

Q: What does this mean governments should be doing, especially now?

A: The high seas are more and more busy every year. So, I think governments need to pay special attention to the need for high seas MPAs. We currently have a special opportunity to create high seas protected areas in some spectacular parts of our ocean, which would bring significant benefits. But if we wait too long, some of these options for maximizing the benefits of marine protection will be lost.

Q: From your perspective as a scientist, what should negotiators keep in mind when working on finalizing the text of a high seas treaty?

A: I think sometimes there is a misconception that we do not yet have enough data to be bold in our political actions in this treaty. As a scientist, I feel confident to say that this is simply not the case. Decades of high seas research and sophisticated ocean modeling and remote observation techniques have put at our disposal a vast amount of knowledge to intelligently find and protect the most important parts of our high seas. New technologies will enable us. also to observe this space relatively inexpensively; it means that we can realistically apply all the provisions of the treaty in a way that would not have been possible a few years ago. I hope negotiators take inspiration from the fact that they have this vast reservoir of new information on their side, as well as the support of scientists, and act boldly as they finalize this important treaty. crucial.

Q: What if they do?

A: A strong treaty for high seas biodiversity prepares us for a win-win: we protect biodiversity responsibly; the benefits of this protection help us fight food insecurity and develop our blue economy on the high seas; and it helps us harness the power of healthy oceans to fight climate change. Success stories like this are rare. This is a truly unique opportunity to do something of lasting significance for our planet and its people.

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