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World Heritage in the High Seas: The Time Has Come

The report by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which explores the different ways the World Heritage Convention may one day apply to the wonders of the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet, was presented to the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii a few hours ago.

World-Heritage-in-the-High-Seas-343x446Sunken coral islands, floating rainforests, giant undersea volcanoes or even spires of rock resembling sunken cities: none of these sites can be inscribed on the World Heritage List because they are found in the High Seas, the parts of Earth’s ocean that are outside of any national jurisdiction.

-Read my commentary on my earlier Voices post about the report.

-More details on our website

Download the report (pdf)

-Celebrate some of the wonders of the high seas in the photos below. A map showing where in the world are some potential places in the high seas that merit World Heritage status may be found below the images.

Crossota, a deep red medusa found just off the botom of the deep sea. Alaska, Beaufort Sea, North of Point Barrow. © Kevin Raskoff / NOAA / Wikipedia
Crossota, a deep red medusa found just off the botom of the deep sea. Alaska, Beaufort Sea, North of Point Barrow. © Kevin Raskoff / NOAA / Wikipedia
Mollusk (Order Nudibranchia) swimming on the flank of Davidson Seamount at 1498 meters water depth. © Credit: NOAA/Monterey Bay Aquarium
Interior of two very large nearly circular stalked sponges (Caulophacus sp.) These sponges are about 1 meter in diameter. © Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana
A dumbo octopus displays a body posture never before observed in cirrate octopods. © Image courtesy of the NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
Hydromedusa. © Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer
Dumbo octopus seen while exploring the west wall of Mona Canyon. © Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer
Beautiful white octocoral polyps. © Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition 2011.
Looking straight down the axis of an Iridogorgia coral. Note the large shrimp on the left and a brittle star to the right. © Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
The pelagic bolitaenid octopus Japatella diaphana. © Sönke Johnsen
Humpback whale in the Sargasso Sea. © Andrew Stevenson
Uniquely beautiful jellyfish observed while exploring the informally named “Enigma Seamount” at a depth of 3,700 meters. © Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.
Squat lobsters are common associates on deep-sea corals, like this one observed at Guyot Ridge. © Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
Diverse coral gardens and complex sea-cliff deep-sea communities characterized by large anemones, large sponges and octocorals at the Atlantis Bank, South West Indian Ocean. © The Natural Environment Research Council and IUCN/GEF Seamounts Project C/O Alex D Rogers.
An Unidentified Swimming Organism. © Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
An Unidentified Swimming Organism. © Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, August 2006. Shot with Nikon D70s in Ikelite housing, in natural light. Animal estimated at 11-12 feet (3.3 to 3.6 m) in length, age unknown. Copyright: © Pterantula (Terry Goss) via Wikimedia Commons
Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, August 2006. Shot with Nikon D70s in Ikelite housing, in natural light. Animal estimated at 11-12 feet (3.3 to 3.6 m) in length, age unknown. Copyright: © Pterantula (Terry Goss) via Wikimedia Commons
A sponge covered with hundreds to thousands of tiny anemones also provides a home to several brittlestars (pink), crinoids or “sea lilies” (yellow), and a basket star (brown). © Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
A sponge covered with hundreds to thousands of tiny anemones also provides a home to several brittlestars (pink), crinoids or “sea lilies” (yellow), and a basket star (brown). © Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
A juvenile of the neustonic chondrophore Porpita porpita. © Sönke Johnsen
A juvenile of the neustonic chondrophore Porpita porpita. © Sönke Johnsen
Illustrations of potential Outstanding Universal Value in the High Seas. © UNESCO Expand map by clicking on it.
Illustrations of potential Outstanding Universal Value in the High Seas. © UNESCO
Expand map by clicking on it.

The work is made possible through the support of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, the French Marine Protected Area Agency (AAMP) and the Swiss watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre. The initiative also received support from the Nekton Foundation.

user_116639-370-390-20160803225929-1Dr. Fanny Douvere is the coordinator of the Marine Programme at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris, France. Since October 2009, her mission is to ensure the 49 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are conserved and sustainably managed so future generations can continue to enjoy them. She recently wrote in Nature on why not investing in marine World Heritage is a lost opportunity for the oceans

Prior to her work at the World Heritage Centre, she co-initiated and led the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) initative at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. In 2009 she co-published the UNESCO guide Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach Toward Ecosystem-based Management. The guide has gained international recognition for setting a standard for the application of MSP and is available in six languages. She also served as an advisor to the United States Executive Office of the President (Council of Environmental Quality) on the development of the US Framework for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

She co-authored more than 20 articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals on both marine World Heritage and MSP. Most recently, she authored for World Heritage Marine Sites Managing effectively the world’s most iconic Marine Protected Areas. A Best Practice Guide, in which she lays out a tangible approach for marine protected area management based on the fundamental idea that all things happen in time and space and the oceans should be managed accordingly.

Fanny obtained her PhD in 2010 from the Ghent University in Belgium and published the book Marine Spatial Planning: Concepts, current practice and linkages to other management approaches.

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