Celebrating hope for oceans
By Gladys Martínez
This month I’m celebrating my tenth anniversary with AIDA. For a decade now, I’ve been working for environmental justice and realizing one of my lifelong dreams: defending that which has no voice.
In all this time, my best clients have been the oceans and their coasts.
Experience has taught me that life depends on the oceans. That’s why I was happy to spend my anniversary working to create a new treaty to protect life in the high seas.
The high seas are considered international waters, and because they belong to no country, there is no legal protection for the plants and animals that call them home.
A treaty that provided that protection would give a second chance to the oceans and to those who most depend on them: all of us.
Time for reflection
Throughout my career as an environmental attorney, I’ve worked to limit the negative impacts of illegal and excessive fishing. On behalf of AIDA, and in alliance with our partner organizations, I’ve used international law to promote sustainable fishing and the conservation of wetlands, mangroves, and coral reefs.
During the last several years I’ve had the honor of working beside Sandra Moguel, AIDA’s marine attorney in Mexico. Because of Sandra’s dedication and leadership, we’ve been able to preserve Mexico’s ocean, coastline and the communites threatened by short-sighted development.
Sandra recently moved on from AIDA to work with our partners at the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), as Director of their Southeast Regional Office. Though I, and all of us at AIDA, will miss having her by our side, her new position fills me with great hope for Mexico, and the fight to defend the country’s rich environmental heritage.
Sandra’s work to protect Mexico’s coastal wetlands, rivers, and oceans will not soon be forgotten. We will build upon her successes and continue the fight to preserve our region’s waters and defend the communities that depend upon them.
A new hope
That fight took me most recently to New York City, with the High Seas Alliance, to assist in the development of the high seas treaty.
This year I’ve participated in two sessions of the treaty’s Preparatory Committee, alongside State representatives and civil society. We aim to complete the agreement within two years. It will be implemented under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
As a representative of AIDA, the only Latin American organization involved in the treaty’s planning meetings, I’m working to ensure the high seas recieve the same protections as the national waters we’ve fought so long to defend.
The high seas treaty is a truly collaborative effort that holds great hope for the protection of our planet’s international waters.
Responsible to my region
As a Costa Rican, I feel a responsibility to care for the natural heritage of Latin America.
I also believe in the importance of creating marine reserves in international waters. Doing so would reduce the pressure of fishing on marine resources, create a more balanced environment, and ease the stress ecosystems and their inhabitants face when adapting to climate change.
The international waters that surround our region are blessed with many areas of great importance to the high seas, known as “ecologically significant areas.” They are:
- The Costa Rican Dome. Located in the Pacific Ocean, the Dome is constantly changing location depending on the wind and ocean currents. It houses breeding, feeding, and birthing zones for tuna, blue whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and many other species.
- The White Shark Café. Located in the international waters of the Pacific Ocean, between the Baja California Peninsula and Hawaii, the area is a key meeting place for white sharks, a species in great danger, which gather there after leaving the coasts of Mexico and Florida.
- The Sala y Gomez and Nazca Ridges. Stretching for more than 3,000 kilometers through the southeast Pacific, the ridges extend beyond Chilean waters, where they are protected by the State. Offshore sections remain unprotected, despite the fact that they contain some of the highest levels of marine biodiversity in the world. The ridges shelter blue whales, leatherback sea turtles, swordfish, and Chilean mackerel, among other species. Most of the underwater mountains are still found in their natural state, making protection paramount.
- The Atlantic Equatorial Fracture Zone. Located between Brazil and the Guinea Basin, this fracture zone belongs to no country. It is a source of food and energy for different species of fish (among them yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, and swordfish), as well as for green and leatherback sea turtles.
Protecting the high seas is vital to providing a safe space for the feeding, breeding, and growth of many important marine species.
As I look forward to another 10 years, my dream remains the same as it ever was: working to protect these great creatures and the waters they call home; giving them a voice; and advocating for the preservation of our region’s greatest natural treasures.