SINGAPORE – Governments have no time to lose when it comes to implementing a new global ocean treaty to protect the high seas as threats from human activities intensify, a report by environmental group Greenpeace said on Thursday.

In March, more than 100 countries completed a groundbreaking treaty to protect the high seas after years of negotiations. It was adopted at the United Nations in June and states can signal their intent to ratify it at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 20.

The treaty will create ocean sanctuaries that are off-limits to fishing and other human activities.

Environmental groups said the agreement was a crucial part of efforts to meet a goal enshrined in last year’s global biodiversity accord to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030 – a target known as “30 by 30”.

The high seas, or international waters, constitute more than 60% of the world’s oceans but have not been under any protection. While the treaty addresses a major regulatory gap, it still needs to be ratified at a national level before it goes into effect.

Greenpeace said fishing hours on the high seas increased by 8.5% from 2018 to 2022, and were up 22.5% in areas that need special protection.

Unsustainable practices have also risen, including longlines that ensnare marine mammals or seabirds. Species like Pacific Bluefin tuna have lost more than 90% of their population in 30 years, the report said.

Sea temperatures hit a record 21.1 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) in April and are driving ocean acidification and deoxygenation. The problems of plastic, oil and noise pollution have still not been brought under control, according to the environmental group.

Greenpeace warned that “new industries wait in the wings”, including the mining of minerals in the seabed as well as ocean carbon removal technology, which are not yet properly regulated.

The UN treaty will only go into effect when it has been ratified by 60 countries. Greenpeace said that needs to happen before 2025 if there is any hope of achieving the “30 by 30” target. Funding the treaty could be the next challenge.

“We believe over 60 countries intend to sign the Treaty (at the UN General Assembly) on Sept. 20, which would send a very strong signal of continued global unity and momentum towards ratification,” said Chris Thorne of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign.

“Reaching 30 by 30 means protecting more than 11 million square kilometers (4.3 million square miles) every year from now to 2030, so there is hardly any time to waste.” — Reuters