Diplomats convened at the United Nations Intergovernmental Conference on Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity in New York this month to determine how to regulate fishing, deep-sea mining and patenting the genes of marine life.
“The conference represents an opportunity to make a difference in the way the world manages the oceans, a chance to undertake a course correction, if you like, while we still can,” said Rena Lee, a Singaporean who is president of the Conference, in her opening remarks.
International treaties joined by most, but not all countries, govern whaling and other deep-sea industries. But most commerce more than 200 miles offshore is unregulated.
“It’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” said Heike Dierbach, media coordinator for Greenpeace Germany, in a statement. “Currently, the global oceans beyond national borders, also known as the high seas, which cover about two thirds of the blue on our planet, are almost completely unprotected.”
DNA patenting, a market that the Financial Times estimated would reach $6.4 billion (€5.52 billion/CHF6.24 billion) in 2025, is among the most contentious issues.
Developing nations are pushing to allow cataloging of the genetic sequences of marine life but mandate the information be public.
Developed nations are worried that approach would undercut profits, however. German chemical giant BASF owns around half of the outstanding 13,000 patents on the DNA of marine organisms, for example. The sequences are thought to hold the promise of new drugs and chemicals.
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