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Mission Blue Voyage

Kristina Gjerde: Making law on the high seas

April 16, 2010

Kristina Gjerde studies the law of the high seas -- the 64 percent of our ocean that isn't protected by any national law at all. Gorgeous photos show the hidden worlds that Gjerde and other lawyers are working to protect from trawling and trash-dumping, through smart policymaking and a healthy dose of PR.

Kristina Gjerde - High seas policy advisor
Kristina Gjerde is an expert on the law of the high seas -- the vast areas of the sea and seabed that exist beyond any national jurisdiction. These places belong to the world; Gjerde's work helps the world work together to protect them. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Today I'm going to take you on a voyage
00:16
to some place so deep,
00:18
so dark, so unexplored
00:20
that we know less about it than we know about the dark side of the moon.
00:23
It's a place of myth and legend.
00:26
It's a place marked on ancient maps
00:28
as "here be monsters."
00:30
It is a place where each new voyage of exploration
00:33
brings back new discoveries of creatures so wondrous and strange
00:36
that our forefathers would have considered them monstrous indeed.
00:39
Instead, they just make me green with envy
00:42
that my colleague from IUCN
00:44
was able to go on this journey to the south of Madagascar seamounts
00:46
to actually take photographs
00:49
and to see these wondrous creatures of the deep.
00:51
We are talking about the high seas.
00:54
The "high seas" is a legal term,
00:57
but in fact, it covers 50 percent of the planet.
00:59
With an average depth of the oceans
01:02
of 4,000 meters,
01:04
in fact, the high seas covers and provides
01:06
nearly 90 percent of the habitat
01:09
for life on this Earth.
01:12
It is, in theory, the global commons,
01:15
belonging to us all.
01:17
But in reality,
01:19
it is managed by and for
01:21
those who have the resources
01:23
to go out and exploit it.
01:25
So today I'm going to take you on a voyage
01:28
to cast light on some of the outdated myths
01:30
and legends and assumptions
01:32
that have kept us as the true stakeholders
01:34
in the high seas in the dark.
01:37
We're going to voyage to some of these special places
01:39
that we've been discovering in the past few years
01:42
to show why we really need to care.
01:44
And then finally, we're going to try
01:47
to develop and pioneer a new perspective
01:49
on high seas governance
01:51
that's rooted in ocean-basin-wide conservation,
01:53
but framed in an arena of global norms
01:56
of precaution and respect.
01:59
So here is a picture of the high seas
02:02
as seen from above --
02:04
that area in the darker blue.
02:06
To me, as an international lawyer,
02:08
this scared me far more
02:10
than any of the creatures or the monsters we may have seen,
02:12
for it belies the notion that you can actually protect the ocean,
02:14
the global ocean,
02:17
that provides us all with carbon storage,
02:19
with heat storage, with oxygen,
02:21
if you can only protect 36 percent.
02:24
This is indeed the true heart of the planet.
02:28
Some of the problems that we have to confront
02:32
are that the current international laws --
02:34
for example, shipping --
02:36
provide more protection
02:38
to the areas closest to shore.
02:40
For example, garbage discharge,
02:42
something you would think just simply goes away,
02:44
but the laws regulating
02:46
ship discharge of garbage
02:48
actually get weaker the further you are from shore.
02:50
As a result, we have garbage patches
02:53
the size of twice-Texas.
02:56
It's unbelievable.
02:59
We used to think the solution to pollution
03:01
was dilution,
03:04
but that has proved to be no longer the case.
03:06
So what we have learned from social scientists
03:09
and economists like Elinor Ostrom,
03:12
who are studying the phenomenon
03:14
of management of the commons on a local scale,
03:16
is that there are certain prerequisites
03:18
that you can put into place
03:21
that enable you to manage
03:23
and access open space
03:25
for the good of one and all.
03:28
And these include a sense of shared responsibility,
03:31
common norms that bind people together as a community.
03:34
Conditional access: You can invite people in,
03:37
but they have to be able to play by the rules.
03:40
And of course, if you want people to play by the rules,
03:43
you still need an effective system
03:45
of monitoring and enforcement,
03:47
for as we've discovered,
03:49
you can trust, but you also need to verify.
03:51
What I'd also like to convey
03:53
is that it is not all doom and gloom
03:55
that we are seeing in the high seas.
03:57
For a group of very dedicated individuals --
03:59
scientists, conservationists,
04:02
photographers and states --
04:04
were able to actually change a tragic trajectory
04:07
that was destroying fragile seascapes
04:10
such as this coral garden
04:12
that you see in front of you.
04:14
That is, we're able to save it from a fate
04:16
of deep-sea bottom trawling.
04:18
And how did we do that?
04:20
Well, as I said, we had a group of photographers that went out on board ships
04:22
and actually photographed the activities in process.
04:25
But we also spent many hours
04:28
in the basements of the United Nations,
04:30
trying to work with governments to make them understand
04:32
what was going on so far away from land
04:35
that few of us had ever even imagined
04:37
that these creatures existed.
04:39
So within three years,
04:41
from 2003 to 2006,
04:43
we were able to get norm in place
04:46
that actually changed the paradigm
04:48
of how fishers went about
04:50
deep-sea bottom trawling.
04:52
Instead of "go anywhere, do anything you want,"
04:54
we actually created a regime
04:57
that required prior assessment of where you're going
04:59
and a duty to prevent significant harm.
05:02
In 2009, when the U.N. reviewed progress,
05:05
they discovered
05:08
that almost 100 million square-kilometers of seabed
05:10
had been protected.
05:13
This does not mean that it's the final solution,
05:15
or that this even provides permanent protection.
05:17
But what it does mean
05:19
is that a group of individuals can form a community
05:21
to actually shape
05:24
the way high seas are governed,
05:26
to create a new regime.
05:28
So I'm looking optimistically at our opportunities
05:30
for creating a true, blue perspective
05:33
for this beautiful planet.
05:36
Sylvia's wish
05:38
provides us with that leverage, that access
05:40
to the heart of human beings,
05:43
you might say,
05:45
who have rarely seen places beyond their own toes,
05:47
but are now hopefully going to become interested
05:50
in the full life-cycle of creatures like these sea turtles,
05:53
who indeed spend most of their time in the high seas.
05:56
Today, we're just going to voyage to a small sampling
06:00
of some of these special areas,
06:03
just to give you an idea of the flavor
06:05
of the riches and wonders they do contain.
06:07
The Sargasso Sea, for example,
06:10
is not a sea bounded by coastlines,
06:12
but it is bounded by oceanic currents
06:14
that contain and envelope
06:17
this wealth of sargassum
06:19
that grows and aggregates there.
06:21
It's also known as the spawning ground for eels
06:23
from Northern European
06:27
and Northern American rivers
06:29
that are now so dwindling in numbers
06:31
that they've actually stopped showing up in Stockholm,
06:33
and five showed up in the U.K. just recently.
06:35
But the Sargasso Sea,
06:38
the same way it aggregates sargassum weed,
06:40
actually is pulling in the plastic
06:43
from throughout the region.
06:45
This picture doesn't exactly show
06:47
the plastics that I would like it to show, because I haven't been out there myself.
06:49
But there has just been a study
06:52
that was released in February
06:54
that showed there are 200,000
06:56
pieces of plastic per square-kilometer
06:58
now floating in the surface of the Sargasso Sea,
07:01
and that is affecting the habitat
07:04
for the many species in their juvenile stages
07:06
who come to the Sargasso Sea
07:09
for its protection and its food.
07:11
The Sargasso Sea is also a wondrous place
07:14
for the aggregation of these unique species
07:17
that have developed to mimic the sargassum habitat.
07:19
It also provides a special habitat
07:22
for these flying fish to lay their eggs.
07:24
But what I'd like to get from this picture
07:28
is that we truly do have an opportunity
07:30
to launch a global initiative for protection.
07:32
Thus, the government of Bermuda has recognized the need
07:35
and its responsibility
07:38
as having some of the Sargasso Sea
07:40
within its national jurisdiction --
07:42
but the vast majority is beyond --
07:44
to help spearhead a movement
07:46
to achieve protection for this vital area.
07:48
Spinning down to someplace a little bit cooler than here right now:
07:50
the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean.
07:53
It's actually a bay.
07:55
It's considered high seas, because the continent
07:57
has been put off limits
07:59
to territorial claims.
08:01
So anything in the water is treated as if it's the high seas.
08:03
But what makes the Ross Sea important
08:06
is the vast sea of pack ice
08:08
that in the spring and summer
08:11
provides a wealth of phytoplankton and krill
08:13
that supports what, till recently,
08:15
has been a virtually intact
08:17
near-shore ecosystem.
08:19
But unfortunately, CCAMLR,
08:22
the regional commission
08:24
in charge of conserving and managing fish stocks
08:26
and other living marine resources,
08:28
is unfortunately starting to give in to fishing interests
08:30
and has authorized the expansion
08:33
of toothfish fisheries in the region.
08:35
The captain of a New Zealand vessel
08:38
who was just down there
08:40
is reporting a significant decline
08:42
in the number of the Ross Sea killer whales,
08:44
who are directly dependent on the Antarctic toothfish
08:47
as their main source of food.
08:49
So what we need to do is to stand up boldly,
08:52
singly and together,
08:55
to push governments,
08:57
to push regional fisheries management organizations,
08:59
to declare our right
09:01
to declare certain areas off-limits to high seas fishing,
09:03
so that the freedom to fish no longer means
09:06
the freedom to fish anywhere and anytime.
09:08
Coming closer to here, the Costa Rica Dome
09:11
is a recently discovered area --
09:14
potentially year-round habitat for blue whales.
09:16
There's enough food there to last them
09:18
the summer and the winter long.
09:20
But what's unusual about the Costa Rica Dome
09:22
is, in fact, it's not a permanent place.
09:24
It's an oceanographic phenomenon
09:26
that shifts in time and space on a seasonal basis.
09:28
So, in fact, it's not permanently in the high seas.
09:31
It's not permanently in the exclusive economic zones
09:33
of these five Central American countries,
09:36
but it moves with the season.
09:38
As such, it does create a challenge to protect,
09:41
but we also have a challenge protecting the species that move along with it.
09:44
We can use the same technologies that fishers use
09:47
to identify where the species are,
09:50
in order to close the area
09:52
when it's most vulnerable,
09:54
which may, in some cases, be year-round.
09:56
Getting closer to shore, where we are,
09:59
this was in fact taken in the Galapagos.
10:01
Many species are headed through this region,
10:03
which is why there's been so much attention
10:05
put into conservation
10:07
of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape.
10:09
This is the initiative that's been coordinated
10:11
by Conservation International
10:13
with a variety of partners and governments
10:15
to actually try to bring integrated management regime
10:17
throughout the area.
10:20
That is, it provides a wonderful example of where you can go
10:22
with a real regional initiative.
10:24
It's protecting five World Heritage sites.
10:26
Unfortunately, the World Heritage Convention
10:29
does not recognize the need to protect areas
10:32
beyond national jurisdiction, at present.
10:35
So a place like the Costa Rica Dome
10:38
could not technically qualify
10:40
the time it's in the high seas.
10:42
So what we've been suggesting
10:44
is that we either need to amend the World Heritage Convention,
10:46
so that it can adopt
10:49
and urge universal protection of these World Heritage sites,
10:52
or we need to change the name
10:55
and call it Half-the-World Heritage Convention.
10:57
But what we also know is that species like these sea turtles
11:00
do not stay put in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape.
11:03
These happen to go down to a vast South Pacific Gyre,
11:07
where they spend most of their time
11:10
and often end up getting hooked like this,
11:12
or as bycatch.
11:14
So what I'd really like to suggest is that we need to scale-up.
11:16
We need to work locally,
11:19
but we also need to work ocean-basin-wide.
11:21
We have the tools and technologies now
11:24
to enable us to take a broader
11:27
ocean-basin-wide initiative.
11:29
We've heard about the Tagging of Pacific Predators project,
11:31
one of the 17 Census of Marine Life projects.
11:34
It's provided us data like this,
11:37
of tiny, little sooty shearwaters
11:39
that make the entire ocean basin their home.
11:42
They fly 65,000 kilometers
11:44
in less than a year.
11:46
So we have the tools and treasures coming from the Census of Marine Life.
11:48
And its culminating year
11:51
that's going to be launched in October.
11:53
So stay tuned for further information.
11:55
What I find so exciting
11:57
is that the Census of Marine Life
11:59
has looked at more than the tagging of pacific predators;
12:01
it's also looked in the really unexplored mid-water column,
12:04
where creatures like this flying sea cucumber
12:07
have been found.
12:09
And fortunately, we've been able, as IUCN,
12:11
to team up with the Census of Marine Life
12:14
and many of the scientists working there
12:16
to actually try to translate
12:18
much of this information to policymakers.
12:20
We have the support of governments now behind us.
12:22
We've been revealing this information through technical workshops.
12:25
And the exciting thing is that we do have sufficient information
12:28
to move ahead to protect some of these
12:31
significant hope spots, hotspots.
12:33
At the same time we're saying,
12:36
"Yes, we need more. We need to move forward."
12:38
But many of you have said,
12:40
if you get these marine protected areas,
12:42
or a reasonable regime for high seas fisheries management in place,
12:44
how are you going to enforce it?
12:47
Which leads me to my second passion besides ocean science,
12:49
which is outer space technology.
12:52
I wanted to be an astronaut,
12:54
so I've constantly followed
12:56
what are the tools available to monitor Earth
12:58
from outer space --
13:00
and that we have incredible tools like we've been learning about,
13:02
in terms of being able to follow tagged species
13:05
throughout their life-cycles
13:07
in the open ocean.
13:09
We can also tag and track fishing vessels.
13:11
Many already have transponders on board
13:14
that allow us to find out where they are and even what they're doing.
13:17
But not all the vessels have those to date.
13:20
It does not take too much rocket science
13:22
to actually try to create new laws to mandate,
13:25
if you're going to have the privilege
13:28
of accessing our high seas resources,
13:30
we need to know -- someone needs to know --
13:33
where you are and what you're doing.
13:35
So it brings me to my main take-home message,
13:38
which is we can avert a tragedy of the commons.
13:40
We can stop the collision course
13:43
of 50 percent of the planet
13:45
with the high seas.
13:47
But we need to think broad-scale. We need to think globally.
13:49
We need to change how we actually go about
13:52
managing these resources.
13:54
We need to get the new paradigm
13:57
of precaution and respect.
13:59
At the same time, we need to think locally,
14:01
which is the joy and marvel of Sylvia's hope spot wish,
14:03
is that we can shine a spotlight
14:06
on many of these previously unknown areas,
14:08
and to bring people to the table, if you will,
14:11
to actually make them feel part of this community
14:14
that truly has a stake
14:17
in their future management.
14:19
And third is that we need to look at ocean-basin-wide management.
14:21
Our species are ocean-basin-wide.
14:24
Many of the deep-sea communities
14:27
have genetic distribution
14:30
that goes ocean-basin-wide.
14:32
We need to better understand,
14:34
but we also need to start to manage and protect.
14:36
And in order to do that,
14:39
you also need ocean-basin management regimes.
14:41
That is, we have regional management regimes
14:43
within the exclusive economic zone,
14:46
but we need to scale these up, we need to build their capacity,
14:48
so they're like the Southern Ocean,
14:51
where they do have the two-pronged fisheries
14:53
and conservation organization.
14:55
So with that, I would just like to sincerely thank and honor
14:58
Sylvia Earle for her wish,
15:01
for it is helping us to put a face on the high seas
15:03
and the deep seas beyond national jurisdiction.
15:05
It's helping to bring an incredible group
15:08
of talented people together
15:10
to really try to solve and penetrate
15:12
these problems that have created our obstacles
15:14
to management and rational use
15:17
of this area that was once so far away and remote.
15:20
So on this tour, I hope I provided you
15:25
with a new perspective of the high seas:
15:27
one, that it is our home too,
15:29
and that we need to work together
15:32
if we are to make this a sustainable ocean future for us all.
15:34
Thank you.
15:37
(Applause)
15:39

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Kristina Gjerde - High seas policy advisor
Kristina Gjerde is an expert on the law of the high seas -- the vast areas of the sea and seabed that exist beyond any national jurisdiction. These places belong to the world; Gjerde's work helps the world work together to protect them.

Why you should listen

Kristina Gjerde is an expert in the law of marine conservation. She's the high-seas policy advisor for IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, where she helps communities and governments find practical solutions to protect the environment. Her focus is on the tricky areas of the sea and seabed that exist beyond any national jurisdiction. These places belong to the world; Gjerde's work aims to help the world work together to protect them.

Gjerde's working with the Census of Marine Life and other scientific organizations to establish the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative, an effort to identify areas of special ecological or biological importance in the high seas and seabed. She's using her legal and scientific expertise to seek protection for these special areas as part of a global network of marine protected areas.

The original video is available on TED.com
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