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Oceans and fisheries
News announcement24 May 2019Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries2 min read

Marine Genetic Resources: Bridging policy, law, science and research and development

Over 65% of the biomass in the ocean is made of plankton. Marine microbes bring services to our ecosystem and their genetic diversity is remarkable. Moreover, marine genetic resources (MGR) have enormous potential in fields such as pharmaceutical, bioremediation, cosmetics, nutraceutical, or biomedical innovation.

MGR in areas beyond national jurisdiction are not regulated. Therefore, the European Commission organised an international workshop on “Marine genetic Resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction: bridging policy, law, science and research and development” on the 21st and 22nd of May in Brussels.

Negotiators of the international treaty on marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), top scientists, legal experts and representatives from the private sector and the civil society came together to better understand the scientific process related to the discovery, analysis and use of marine genetic resources (MGR) from areas beyond national jurisdiction, the high seas and the Area. In total, 90 participants from 32 countries. The workshop was an opportunity to bridge the world of the policy makers with the scientific community, legal experts and the private sector, for a better understanding of the scientific process related to the discovery, analysis and use of marine genetic resources (MGR) from areas beyond national jurisdiction, the high seas and its seabed.

Participants had the opportunity to discuss important technical aspects related to: the sampling of MGR; their scientific analysis; their storing in collection; the transformation of samples into digital scientific information; examples of applied research; Legal issues , such as intellectual property rights (IPRs) were also high on the agenda.

Molecular biologists described how DNA is extracted and transformed into digital data, which then needs to be curated before being analysed.

The scientific community stressed the importance of having open access to data, as this is the foundation of scientific investigation. Oceanographers gave an overview of the technologies employed for sampling the deep sea and explained how difficult and costly it is to organise cruises in the high seas. International cooperation is therefore essential and there are plenty of good examples to follow. BBNJ negotiations is a political priority for the European Union. João AGUIAR MACHADO, Director General of DG MARE, stressed the importance in engaging with the scientific community and the private sector, with the support of the civil society organizations, in the ongoing negotiations.

The President of the BBNJ intergovernmental conference (IGC) at the UN, Rena Lee, underlined the need to base the negotiations on solid scientific knowledge and to look for practical solutions, through a pragmatic approach.


The BBNJ negotiation to elaborate the text of an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, is currently ongoing. The negotiation focuses on four elements of a “package deal”: areas based management tools, including marine protected areas – environmental impacts assessment – capacity building and transfer of marine technologies – marine genetic resources, including benefit sharing. The EU and its Member States has been a strong promoter of this political process since its inception in 2006.Reaching an effective and universal agreement is a key priority for the EU, within the Ocean Governance Agenda.

The next meeting of the IGC is planned for August 2019 (19/30 August).

Report of the workshop marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction