Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) in high seas

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

I did not find it surprising that China and Japan – two countries with heavy deep sea mining programmes – tried to pour some cold water during this week’s discussions on ecologically or biologically significant areas (EBSAs) by a working group. Most countries were in favour of identifying and protecting such areas in waters within their national jurisdiction as well as high seas outside. But first, what are EBSAs and why do we need them?

It goes back to the Aichi target number ten that specifies ten per cent of marine and coastal areas should be protected by 2020. In 2010, CBD officially endorsed a plan to identify ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSAs), based on seven scientific criteria determined in 2008.

Ecologically and biologically significant areas and other marine protected areas need more attention. Credit: NOAA

They are: uniqueness or rarity; special importance for life-history stages of species; importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats; vulnerability;  fragility;  sensitivity;  slow recovery; biological productivity;  biological diversity; and naturalness. Meeting any of these criteria will qualify an area to be an EBSA.That may sound good, but the ground (rather sea) realities are that not much is known about large swathes of oceans.  Once identified, EBSAs are not afforded any specific management plan or protection, Patrick Halpin, associate professor at Duke University’s marine geospatial ecological laboratory, told a side event on marine protected parks on Wednesday.

According to World Wildlife Fund, only 1.6 per cent of oceans are protected; while already 35 per cent of mangroves, 30 per cent of seagrass beds and 20 per cent of coral reefs are destroyed.

I checked out with Patricio Bernal, a biodiversity consultant and observer at the ongoing COP-11, about potential for conflict between EBSAs and deep-sea mining interests. Bernal says discussions are on between CBD is providing inputs to international sea authorities about the need to conserve some important areas.

An option being considered is to grant licenses for deep-sea mining only in areas that are ecologically and biologically similar to three or four other areas not too far off from the mining site,  to ensure species maintenance and connectivity.

But given the powerful lobbies behind deep sea mining, how much of the CBD guidance will be taken on board remains to be seen.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 


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