In April 2021, the Coral Reefs of the High Seas Coalition launched its website. Coral reefs are widely regarded as one of the top conservation priorities globally, as these ecosystems harbor extraordinary biodiversity, provide many human benefits, and are highly vulnerable to impacts. While most of our knowledge of these critical ecosystems is derived from studies on nearshore reefs, coral reefs have also recently been documented on the high seas in many locations around the globe.
The Coral Reefs of the High Seas Coalition is a multidisciplinary alliance of partners that aims to generate the science, strategic communication, and political support that is necessary to conserve coral reefs on the high seas. Since its inception in 2019, the coalition has regularly convened experts in ocean science, exploration, policy, law, and communications to advance its work. Specifically, the coalition conducts scientific studies to generate the knowledge needed to guide policy recommendations, and engages with organizations that regulate human activities on the high seas to better position coral reefs for increased protection.
To date, the coalition has mostly focused its efforts on international waters surrounding the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges, two seamount chains that stretch across 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) in the southeastern Pacific. Isolated by the Humboldt Current and the Atacama Trench, this region is home to one of the most unique collections of marine biodiversity on Earth. For many groups of organisms, nearly half of the species are endemic to the region and found nowhere else on our planet. Not only is this region a biodiversity hotspot, it is also culturally significant as Polynesian and other seafarers have sailed across it for centuries.
Due to their exceptional natural and cultural significance, the Salas y Gómez and Nazca ridges have been identified as a prime candidate for conservation by numerous international organizations. This could be achieved by the following mechanisms, which are being pursued by the coalition:
- Closing this region to industrial fishing activities regulated by the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission;
- closing the region to seabed mining activities regulated by the International Seabed Authority; and
- establishing a high seas marine protected area to provide comprehensive protection, management and research once the United Nations Agreement on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction is finalized and comes into force.