Supporting biodiversity management across the globe

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the international legal framework for using the world’s ocean resources.
ecologically and biologically significant areas OF THE GLObal ocean

World globe showing ocean areas.

Image: Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, Duke University

At present, no global, comprehensive international agreement exists on how biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) should be managed, conserved or sustainably used. The final meeting of the UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Working Group in early 2015 recommended that the UN General Assembly (UNGA) negotiate a legally-binding instrument, (under UNCLOS), on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction.

Notwithstanding the recommendation made by the UN Working Group, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is undertaking a scientific and technical program to help the international community consider issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in ABNJ.
In this context, Marine Biodiversity Hub scientists have been helping Southern Hemisphere nations to identify areas meeting the scientific criteria established by the CBD for describing Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) in the region. Hub scientists provided technical support to a series of Southern Hemisphere CBD workshops that facilitated the scientific description of EBSAs.

EBSAs are areas considered relatively more biologically significant, from a scientific standpoint, than their surroundings. Their scientific identification has produced products and information that can be drawn upon by the international community if they consider implementing spatial management tools, including marine protected areas, in ABNJ.

The global series of regional CBD workshops involved specialists from 92 countries and 79 regional or international bodies. Together, they considered more than two-thirds of the global ocean, and identified more than 200 areas that meet the internationally-agreed definition for EBSAs. The workshops have provided impetus to international discussions of area-based management in ABNJ, and contributed to building capacity and international networks essential to global marine science. The next step is to investigate how EBSA information might support decision-making in relevant UN fora regarding the management, conservation and sustainable use of marine resources in ABNJ.

This project has also supported the ongoing use of EBSAs by proposing an adaptive, hierarchical approach that takes key elements from existing frameworks and demonstrates their application, both within national jurisdictions, and in ABNJ. The adaptive hierarchical process encourages early implementation of marine spatial planning and ecosystem-based management using available scientific knowledge and governance, and supports the gradual progress to more complex and information-rich structures.

Outputs and outcomes

Southern Hemisphere countries have been supported to identify EBSAs in their own waters and in the regional seas (or ABNJ). In collaboration with the CBD and Duke University teams, the great majority of these areas have been accepted by the international community at the Conference of Parties to the CBD and have been referred to international agencies and conventions including the UN.

Tools developed by the Marine Biodiversity Hub to support marine bioregional planning in Australia have been suggested as options for ABNJ, and have been presented to the CBD and to the United Nations General Assembly Working Group on marine biodiversity in ABNJ. This has provided nations with options and ideas for developing marine protected areas, and moves the discussion beyond the use of EBSAs.


Piers Dunstan
(03) 6232 5382