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Marine Policy
Volume 131, 2021, 104640

Protecting marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction: A penguins’ perspective

Jean-Baptiste Thiebota, Jean-Baptiste Thiebotb

National Institute of Polar Research, 10-3 Midori cho, Tachikawa, 190-8518 Tokyo, Japan.


The expansion of human activities in offshore maritime regions has outpaced the development of scientific knowledge and cooperative governance across these areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). In this context, current negotiations by the United Nations aim for an international legally-binding instrument to improve governance and sustainable use of biodiversity in ABNJ. Penguins are among the most threatened seabird groups today, notably at sea from fisheries and oiling. Here, we examine the available information on penguins’ movements and evaluate their use of ABNJ across species and life-cycle stages. We highlight that in most of the 18 extant penguin species, the birds may undertake spectacular migrations, seasonally or throughout life-cycle stages. Long-range movements were reported in 16 species, with trans-jurisdictional distribution in 14 species, including 13 in ABNJ. Species richness in ABNJ varied extensively according to oceanic region, and also varied according to season. Transboundary movements, notably to ABNJ, are thus remarkably prevalent among penguin species. Consequently, provisions of the treaty under negotiation may crucially benefit penguin conservation, notably by creating a uniform legal framework to designate protected areas in ABNJ, and by promoting the precautionary approach to extraction activities. However, the seasonally-dynamic utilisation of ABNJ by penguins supports the pertinence of adding innovative protection tools, such as mobile Marine Protected Areas, to the negotiations for a more adequate protection of marine biodiversity. Underlining penguins’ remarkable connectivity to the high seas can thus further strengthen this instrument aiming to protect a global ocean commons heritage of mankind.

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