Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of the High Seas has risen on the international agenda over the past years. Despite considerable efforts by a multitude of international organizations, attempts toward conserving the most exceptional High Seas areas have not seen a major breakthrough.
Perhaps part of the problem lies in the inability to translate to the general public the High Seas’ exceptional ecological values and the need to conserve them. In 2011, the Independent Evaluation by the UNESCO External Auditor on the implementation of the Global Strategy for a credible, representative and balanced World Heritage List recommended the need to “reflect upon appropriate means to preserve the sites that are outside of the sovereignty of States Parties responding to the conditions of Outstanding Universal Value.” Moreover, in 2009, the IUCN-WHC Bahrain expert meeting on marine World Heritage recommended establishing a list of sites of the High Seas that fulfilled the Outstanding Universal Value criteria in order to give impetus to progress through the framework of the Convention.
The 1972 World Heritage Convention could be a powerful framework to promote awareness and education on this issue. One way of doing this is to connect and compare iconic places that the general public already considers to be unquestionably important, such as the Taj Mahal (India), the Great Wall of China or the Grand Canyon (USA), to exceptional High Seas locations. The World Heritage Convention is built on the premise that certain sites are exceptional and that they should be protected for humanity as a whole.
Not only could this initiative bring a much needed “human dimension” to the High Seas conservation discussion, it could also help focus conservation attention to particular places that are exceptional and irreplaceable. A first expert meeting on this topic was organized by the World Heritage Marine Programme from 18 to 19 March, 2013 at Potsdam, Germany.