The United Nations adopted a new treaty Monday to protect ocean life on the high seas.
The treaty is the first to focus specifically on the biodiversity found in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of any one nation. Such waters make up roughly half of the world’s oceans.
The U.N. has worked toward such an agreement for more than 20 years. In March of 2023 the U.N. ; now that it’s been adopted, countries will have the opportunity to sign on starting on September 20th. It will go into effect once 60 countries ratify it with signatures.
The treaty falls under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was established in 1994.
It will streamline some of the complexities that have governed international waters since then. It will create a U.N. panel responsible for managing conservation and designating marine protected areas, and set rules to require commercial groups to assess the environmental impacts of their activities.
Environmental experts say the treaty will be a significant step forward for conservation — protecting a huge segment of Earth’s biodiversity, which until now was largely neglected, and at a time when climate change and ocean acidification represent greater threats than ever to those ecosystems.