Sail 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometers, from any coastline, and you’ll enter a region called the “high seas,” beyond the control of any country. While many people never get to dip below the surface of the open ocean, it hosts a rich and complex submarine world. The upper layers generate rich phytoplankton blooms, which attract a multitude of species and create ideal feeding grounds for whales, sharks and turtles. Dive deeper, and you’ll find bioluminescent jellyfish, long-snouted eels, and sponges made from silica, the same substance as in glass. There are entire mountain ranges in the deep ocean, as well as hydrothermal vents formed from millions of years of volcanic activity.
Despite the rich biodiversity of the high seas, only about 1% are currently protected, while the rest lie beyond national jurisdiction. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does provide some specification of what activities can and can’t be done in the open ocean, but experts say it doesn’t do enough to protect the high seas.