Skylight and IUCN to Provide AI Technology at No Cost to Fast-Track Implementation of Newly Signed UN High Seas Treaty

The partnership will assist the Global South with the development, planning, and management of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas

The BBNJ Agreement — also known as the High Seas Treaty — is a lifeline that our ocean desperately needs. Photo courtesy Pawel Nolbert via Unsplash

Accounting for almost two-thirds of the global ocean, the high seas and seabed areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction play a critical role in maintaining life on Earth. The degradation of biodiversity in these areas affects the ocean’s resilience to climate change and its capacity to provide resources necessary for human survival.

With these key areas under increasing threat, our parent organization, the Allen Institute for AI (AI2), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are partnering to equip governmental and non-governmental organizations with advanced AI to safeguard the high seas for the long term. Following the signing of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction Agreement (BBNJ) at the New York UN SDG Summit on Wednesday, the partnership will help fast-track the effective and equitable implementation of the agreement.

The remoteness and vastness of the high seas present a unique challenge for countries planning to establish and monitor marine protected areas (MPAs) under the BBNJ Agreement – also known as the UN High Seas Treaty. Together, IUCN, a global authority on conservation with over 1,400 member organisations, and AI2, a non-profit research institute building AI for the common good, will give developing countries interested in carrying out the Treaty access to AI2’s monitoring and analysis software, Skylight, at no cost, ensuring equitable implementation of the High Seas Treaty in the Global South and beyond. Countries will also receive technical assistance, capacity building, and policy advice from IUCN.

A vessel operating on the high seas as viewed in AI2’s maritime monitoring and analysis platform, Skylight. Photo courtesy Skylight, a product of AI2, with courtesy to Maxar.

Skylight, which is used by over 300 organizations in nearly 70 countries, combines satellite technology and AI to deliver automated monitoring and detection capabilities to assist in tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. With the ability to process and analyze millions of data points daily, the platform also provides policymakers and marine protected area managers with near real-time and historical intelligence to inform conservation actions.

“AI2 and IUCN will work at the technology and policy nexus, deploying cutting-edge technology and world-class policy expertise to promote early High Seas Treaty implementation. AI2’s Skylight platform is not only a powerful tool, but it can also help promote equity in terms of fair and equal access to data and information for the effective management of marine protected areas,” said Minna Epps, Head of IUCN’s Ocean Team

The High Seas Treaty, which has been in the making for almost two decades, provides a global framework for protecting marine areas and species, assessing the impact of human activities, providing technology transfer and capacity building, and ensuring the equitable sharing of benefits from marine genetic resources.

“AI will be an important part of the solution required to effectively monitor and manage high seas and MPAs,” said Ted Schmitt, Senior Director of Skylight at AI2. “By combining powerful AI applications, including computer vision and machine learning, with remote satellite data, we will empower developing countries with an essential intelligence and analysis tool needed to safeguard these crucial areas for the long term.

Today, Skylight is accelerating the way organizations use AI to tackle the crisis of IUU fishing, which causes an estimated USD 23.5 billion annually in economic losses. Rolling out Skylight will help advance how countries — and marine protected area planners and managers — make data-driven decisions, which will be critical to delivering on the promise of the new High Seas Treaty.

Skylight will help strengthen the implementation of the treaty, which also specifically calls for the “development and transfer of marine technology, including technological tools for effective monitoring, control, and surveillance of activities,” among other actions.

The High Seas Treaty was open for signature on September 20, 2023, at the United Nations Headquarters — starting the process for nations to ratify it into their own laws. At least 60 UN Member States must ratify the treaty for it to come into force.