About the High Seas Initiative

The Aspen High Seas Initiative is a dynamic, interdisciplinary program that brings the ocean community and world leaders together to sustainably manage and protect the High Seas, the last unregulated global commons. Nations’ exclusive jurisdiction over their maritime areas ends 200 nautical miles from shore in most cases, leaving activity in nearly two-thirds of the ocean—43 percent of the earth’s surface—largely without adequate oversight. This poses significant immediate and long-term risks to the wellbeing of humanity and all life on Earth.

We are faced with an urgent need and compelling opportunity to manage marine resources and wildlife more sustainably, account for environmental impacts, and address the risks and opportunities associated with emerging activities, such as seabed mining and development of marine biotechnology, in a manner that is environmentally safe, cautious, and equitable.

The Aspen High Seas Initiative collaborates with partners across disciplines and sectors to inspire all humanity to better manage and protect what the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea calls “the common heritage of humankind,” including by seeking achievement of the targets in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water.

Our focus areas include:

  • Creation and implementation of binding international agreements that regulate use of the High Seas and the deep ocean to restore these critical systems to full functionality;
  • Negotiation of a new international treaty to manage biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction;
  • Supporting establishment, expansion, and enforcement of marine reserves;
  • Harnessing technology for exploration and marine surveillance;
  • Elevating awareness of the ocean issues, including marine ecosystems’ vital role in climate and other natural cycles that sustain life on Earth; and
  • Educating and engaging youth to become future leaders working on behalf of our global ocean.

The Aspen Institute established this initiative as a policy program led by Executive Director Michael Conathan, and co-chaired by Dr. Sylvia Earle and David Shaw, with a Leadership Council including Secretary Madeleine Albright, President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, Dr. E.O. Wilson, Senator George Mitchell, General Stanley McChrystal, Dr. Barbara Block, former White House officials John Bridgeland and James Connaughton, Linda Glover, filmmakers Bob & Sarah Nixon, Dr. Richard Pyle, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, and Captain Buddy Vanderhoop.