Deep-sea genetic resources: New frontiers for science and stewardship in areas beyond national jurisdiction
The deep-sea is a large source of marine genetic resources (MGR), which have many potential uses and are a growing area of research. Much of the deep-sea lies in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), including 65% of the global ocean. MGR in ABNJ occupy a significant gap in the international legal framework. Access and benefit sharing of MGR is a key issue in the development of a new international legally-binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in ABNJ. This paper examines how this is relevant to deep-sea scientific research and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities. There is no internationally agreed definition of MGR, however, deep-sea genetic resources could incorporate any biological material including genes, proteins and natural products. Deep-sea scientific research is the key actor accessing MGR in ABNJ and sharing benefits such as data, samples and knowledge. UNCLOS provides the international legal framework for marine scientific research, international science cooperation, capacity building and marine technology transfer. Enhanced implementation could support access and benefit sharing of MGR in ABNJ. Deep-sea scientific researchers could play an important role in informing practical new governance solutions for access and benefit sharing of MGR that promote scientific research in ABNJ and support deep-sea stewardship. Advancing knowledge of deep-sea biodiversity in ABNJ, enhancing open-access to data and samples, standardisation and international marine science cooperation are significant potential opportunity areas.
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