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The member states of the UN have reached an agreement to protect the high seas from climate change, overfishing, seabed mining, and other dangers that threaten marine life. The world’s ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the planet, but there has never been a comprehensive international treaty to protect its biodiversity.

This humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and calf  |  Credit: J. Moore/NOAA

Negotiations have been going on for nearly 20 years to accomplish an understanding to set up marine protected areas, or MPAs.  This weekend’s agreement will provide a legal mechanism to protect wildlife and share resources from the high seas—areas that are 200 nautical miles beyond a country’s coast.

The New York Times reports that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Monica Medina said that the world came together to protect the ocean for the benefit of our children and grandchildren with the ability to create protected areas and the ambitious goal of conserving 30 percent of the ocean.

The high seas have unique species that need protection and can contribute to human health.  In addition, billions of people rely on the ocean for food and jobs. The treaty would move toward accomplishing the 30x30 pledge to protect one-third of the seas and land by 2030 made at the UN biodiversity conference late last year.  In a statement, Greenpeace said that the treaty was a monumental win for ocean protection and provides a pathway to create marine protected areas worldwide.

Before it becomes effective, countries will have to adopt the treaty and then must ratify it, which in the U.S. would require Senate approval.

New Study Says Dirty Sea Spray Dirties the Air in Coastal Communities

After large rainstorms, runoff from the land containing contaminants from cars, trucks, farms, ranches, septic tanks, and sewage is one of the largest sources of ocean pollution. Sometimes, beaches are closed because of E.coli and other bacteria from waste in the water, but now there are concerns that pollutants can become airborne in sea spray and reach people a mile or two inland—far beyond surfers, swimmers, and other beachgoers.

A first-of-its-kind study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that viruses, compounds, and bacteria transfer into the atmosphere. As a wave breaks, about one-fifth of the bacteria in it bubbles up and then launches into the air.

The team conducted their study at Imperial Beach in Southern California near the Mexican border and were able to link air samples to bacteria and compounds from the polluted Tijuana River that flows into the sea. The beach in that area was closed a record number of days last year because of sewage.

The researchers determined that three-quarters of the bacteria in the air came from sewage in the surf zone, however, they currently don’t know whether the aerosols can make people sick. Most bacteria and viruses are harmless, and more research is needed. Still, the authors say their findings are further support for prioritizing the clean-up of coastal waters.   

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.




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