Protecting marine areas beyond jurisdiction

03 March 2017

Associate Professor Caroline Foster from the Auckland Law School recently returned from a workshop on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) at the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security.

The University of Auckland academic took part in discussions about the negotiation of a new treaty on BBNJ for adoption by the United Nations General Assembly.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly decided to develop an international legally-binding instrument under the Convention to deal with the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.  The BBNJ instrument may take the form of an additional implementing agreement to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982.

Government and university participants at the workshop discussed current issues and progress on the four main topics of marine genetic resource use, environmental impact assessment, marine protected areas and area based management tools, and capacity building in developing countries.

A particular focus of discussion was how the new BBNJ instrument would interface with existing spatial resource management through regional fisheries organisations such as the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Organisation, hosted in New Zealand.

“The BBNJ represents a huge challenge and an important opportunity for better protection and sustainable use of ocean resources beyond the exclusive economic zone and continental shelves,” said Dr Foster.

“The political will and momentum characterising the talks to date suggest we can hold out hope for effective new developments towards a regime for better ocean management.”

There is a pressing need for a more integrated system of ocean governance through which nations can co-operate to establish rules to protect and preserve the planet’s marine environment beyond national jurisdiction.

Negotiators hope an overarching global BBNJ instrument on environmental protection and biodiversity conservation can be concluded, and then adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, later this year.

Dr Foster has experience with international negotiations, having worked with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a legal and policy adviser.  She presently teaches Public International Law, Law of the Sea and Antarctica, and Advanced International Law at the University of Auckland.  She has published on matters relating to transboundary harm and harm to areas of common concern in a number of international journals.

Dr Foster is also currently supervising doctoral work by Ute Decker investigating the roles of state and non-state actors on the High Seas and in Antarctica.  

The BBNJ workshop was the inaugural event of the newly launched Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law Interest Group on Oceans and International Environmental Law. Interest Group members look forward to further events.