Deep-Sea Genetic Resources

Image courtesy of Verena Tunnicliffe, University of Victoria, Canada

Access to deep-sea marine genetic resources (MGR) in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) and the sharing of benefits arising from their use is a topic of growing international debate that could have profound implications for deep-sea science. This topic is one of the core issues currently under consideration at the United Nations as part of a process to develop a new international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (65% of the ocean surface) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

MGR could be accessed in different ways and provide a number of possible benefits both monetary (e.g. financial) and non-monetary (e.g. access to data and capacity development). MGR could also potentially be applied in a range of different industry sectors (e.g. pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, industrial processes). However, it is not yet clear how access to MGR in ABNJ could be most usefully facilitated and how benefits could be effectively derived and equitably shared. Further integrating deep-sea science with international law is important to understand and address these challenges.

This working group aims to explore and identify options for conserving and sustainably utilising deep-sea genetic resources, including questions relating to access and benefit sharing of marine genetic resources beyond national jurisdiction.

Working Group Activities:

1) Convened a workshop at the 14th Deep Sea Biology Symposium (Aviero, September 2015) to discuss possible roles for the deep sea biological community in addressing challenges for accessing and sharing benefits from MGR in ABNJ.

2) Promote engagement between deep-sea biology community and the UN process for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction, in relation to access and benefit sharing of marine genetic resources. Including: Sign-on letter for facilitating research for MGR ABNJ (Jan 2016).

3) Briefing paper – Discussing MGR as part of ABNJ: how to protect biological life and facilitate scientific research? (Nov 2015)

4) Survey: Priorities for facilitating marine scientific research relating to MGR ABNJ.  DOSI.DSGR_DiscussionPaper (March 2016). Submitted letter and summary of survey results to 1st Preparatory Committee meeting for the development of a new legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction under the UN convention on the Law of the Sea (23rd March 2016).

5) Attendance at 2nd and 3rd prep comm for BBNJ process.

6) Roundtables with research community, government representatives, industry and other experts to identify potential modalities for facilitating access to and sharing benefits of deep sea genetic resources.

Current leadership of the working group is:
Kristina Gjerde, Harriet Harden-Davies & Elva Escobar.

If you are interested in participating in the DOSI-DSGR working group, please contact Harriet Harden-Davies: