Common Oceans - A partnership for sustainability and biodiversity in the ABNJ

Amid heightened public attention for healthy oceans, Common Oceans Program bolsters management of the high seas

Global partnership takes stock of progress in sustainable ocean management and marine biodiversity conservation

6 February 2024

Amid heightened public attention for healthy oceans, Common Oceans Program bolsters management of the high seas

Rome – With ocean issues brought into the limelight following the adoption of a groundbreaking high seas treaty last year, the Common Oceans Program is accelerating efforts to bolster global ocean management. At a recent meeting its partners focused on improving governance, strengthening capacity, innovative solutions and generating knowledge to improve the health, productivity, sustainable use and resilience of the ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.

"Contrary to popular belief, the high seas are not unregulated," said Manuel Barange, FAO Assistant Director-General and the Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division, opening the meeting and hailing the historic new high seas agreement as a game-changer for marine biodiversity conservation. “However, more knowledge and data are needed if we want to manage high seas resources more effectively and secure the sustainability of ocean ecosystems,” he added.

"The Common Oceans Program is a powerful partnership," said Lorenzo Galbiati, GEF Technical Officer, stating that the GEF will serve as the financial mechanism of the so-called Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement (BBNJ), adopted in June 2023 after nearly two decades of negotiations. “The Common Oceans Program is also an example of the integrated approach promoted by the GEF in tackling complex global issues, including the health and sustainable use of the oceans."

Meeting in Rome to take stock of progress made during the first year of a new phase, the Common Oceans Program has galvanized international action in support of sustainable management of ocean resources and preservation of marine life in the ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) since it was set up in 2014.

The program spent its first five years from 2014-2019 contributing to reducing the number of tuna stocks experiencing overfishing, bringing down bycatch and marine pollution, and helping establish new areas for protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Better governance and improved management of the ABNJ

Participants to the meeting in Rome underlined that the program has a key role to play in support of the vision of the BBNJ-agreement to advance conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of the ABNJ – which cover over 60 percent of the world’s ocean surface.

They engaged in a reflection on identifying those areas where the program has most added value and how it can best mobilize the power of its partnership in pursuit of its ambitious goals - ensuring that major tuna and deep-sea stocks are fished at sustainable levels by 2027, promoting conservation of the unique high seas ecosystem of the Sargasso Sea and improving cross-sectoral cooperation on key issues such as seabed disturbance, pollution, and climate change.

The meeting concluded that the transformational capacity of the program in support of sustainable ocean management and marine biodiversity conservation lies in improving governance​, strengthening capacity, developing innovative solutions​ as well as generating and sharing knowledge.

Innovative ways of engaging the private sector in contributing to tackling harmful use of the ABNJ are developed by program partners such as Conservation International (CI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). CI is working with the tuna industry in Fiji to improve the safety and sustainability, as well as working conditions of long line tuna fishing, while WWF is developing business cases driving conservation, including the use of biodegradable fish aggregating devices, knowns as bioFADs.

About the Common Oceans Program

The Common Oceans Program is a global partnership funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), promoting sustainable fisheries and conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). Led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Program brings together the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), regional fisheries management organizations, national governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, civil society and academia.