THE BLOG
04/22/2014 05:22 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2014

It's an Investment, Not a Cost: High Seas Management on the Table at The Hague for the Global Ocean Action Summit

Humans are land creatures by origin so it is easy only to see the ocean as one enormous two-dimensional space. We look out and see varying shades of blue and green and the ever-changing waves and ripples that speckle its surface. But the ocean is so much more, both for our planet and for our well-being.

The vast ocean volume makes up more than 97 percent of the living space of the planet and its waters has absorbed most of the heat generated by climate change. Close to the coasts where nearshore waters are shallow and rich in nutrients, people benefit from abundant fisheries. We gain from the protection of mangroves and coral reefs against storms, from coastal economies and livelihoods, from the carbon sequestration of salt marshes and seagrass beds that reduce the impacts of climate change, from tourism and recreation on beaches and along coasts.

Further from shore however, outside the 200 nautical miles limit that countries claim as their Exclusive Economic Zones, lay the High Seas, the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. Although the High Seas do not host productive nearshore habitats, they still provide human societies with many essential benefits. The High Seas support more than 10 percent of the world's fisheries, share migratory fish and large animal populations with nearshore areas and make up 58 percent of the world's oceans or more than 40 percent of the planet's surface.

Large quantities of tuna and other highly migratory fish, 11 million tons each year, are caught in the High Seas by fishing vessels from several countries and provide people with essential sources of income. Shipping that make up the lion's share of the world's traded goods cross the High Seas along major trading routes transecting the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The resources of the High Seas generate million of jobs and livelihoods for coastal economies, both in developed and developing countries.

The High Seas are not under the jurisdiction of one country and therefore represent the ultimate global public good and their sound management and use depend on global collaboration at an unprecedented scale. It will take unlikely partners from government, the private sector, civil society and communities to ensure ocean health for the High Seas. High Seas management is truly a test for the ability of human societies to deal effectively with issues of planetary scale. Such a global challenge requires global action which is the focus of something underway this week in The Hague, The Netherlands: the Global Ocean Action Summit.

Organized by the Governments of The Netherlands, Indonesia, Grenada, Mauritius, Norway and the United States, together with the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization the summit has brought together 700 leaders, including dozens of ministers and CEOs, from all sectors of society to identify the immediate actions we can take to secure ocean health and benefits for people.

Both nearshore and High Seas issues will have prominent roles at the Summit and although the geographic scale of High Seas challenges are greater, we can still apply what we have learned from managing areas closer to the coasts to make progress on High Seas management which still is sorely lacking.

But what is it that we need?

We need to measure ocean health of the High Seas so we have a baseline against which to evaluate the success of our actions. We must incorporate the true value of High Seas resources in supply chains and government decisions. We also need to dedicate resources for innovation and smart solutions to Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.

Management of the High Seas should not be seen as a cost but as an investment. It is an investment in global ocean health and an investment to ensure people continue to benefit from healthy High Seas through sustainable fisheries, shipping and other economic activities.