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Marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction: a ‘common heritage of mankind’

Today the artificial division of the ocean into maritime zones laid out by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is obsolete. The evolution of international law demonstrates that ocean waters in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) constitute a single ecosystem. That single ecosystem cannot be divided into many discrete jurisdictional zones. Drawing from other treaties and taking a human rights perspective to regulating biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), the new international legally binding instrument (ILBI) countries are negotiating must incorporate the ‘common heritage of mankind’ (CHM) principle. Without this, states will be left to exploit marine genetic resources (MGR) on a first-come, first-served basis, leading to global inequities. It is high time that nations rejected the existing silos of ocean governance and opted for the comprehensive protection of ocean species and habitats.

Revised version, March 2019

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Marine and coastal resources support the livelihoods of millions of poor people across the world. They also provide a range of critical ecosystem services to the rest of the economy. The connection between high seas and coastal waters where small-scale fishers are active is relatively unexplored but already, the need for an ocean governance system, which will protect both areas, is evident.

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