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EU calls for high seas biodiversity protection treaty

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Monday, 22 April 2013

EU calls for high seas biodiversity protection treaty

An updated U.N. treaty governing the exploitation of deep-sea bioresources is urgently needed, EU Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki said on April 11 at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Paris, in an attempt to assure a rational and fair harvest of resources from in deep-sea areas.
Her call came as private companies and scientific teams are stepping up "bioprospecting" in deep-sea areas, seeking sometimes rare marine organisms whose molecular compounds and unique properties can be used in anti-cancer pharmaceuticals, food and other potentially lucrative commercial fields.
That has led to fears of over-harvesting, physical disruptions of fragile ecosystems and pollution in the absence of an updated convention to protect the diversity of deep-sea marine life.
The conference called for "decisive action" to "move forward" on a revision of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) -- which governs the high seas beyond national jurisdictions -- to include the protection of marine biodiversity. UNCLOS, since it was established in 1994, has covered only rights to "non-sedentary marine biological resources" such as fish, which belong to whoever catches them on the high seas. However, since then, deep-sea species such as sponges, corals and sea slugs and bacteria collected from hydrothermal vents have become commercially attractive for the enzymes their produce, which can be used in anti-cancer drugs, cosmetics, ethanol production and other products. "Bioprospecting" marine scientists and companies have identified more than 15,000 molecules, resulting in nearly 700 marine gene patent claims filed by 2009.Dozens of products based on deep-sea organisms have been patented, raising questions of how the sea life will be managed. Moreover, the number of new products developed from marine species through biotechnology grows by 4 percent every year.
Damanaki told the Paris conference that the European Union is urging a goal of adding a biodiversity protocol to UNCLOS by 2014. Countries attending last year's Rio+20 Conference in Rio de Janeiro committed to agreeing on an updated UNCLOS by the end of the 69th U.N. General Assembly in September 2014.
However, one of the biggest challenges would be to establish a new entity responsible for administrating access to marine genetic resources, and to establish benefit-sharing and monitoring mechanisms.

Source: United Press International (UPI)