Policy Workshop on the BBNJ Agreement in Ventura, California

BBNJ Policy Workshop - Ventura

On the 12th of March 2024, BlueRemediomics partners from the University of Aberdeen organised a Policy Workshop on the BBNJ Agreement in Ventura, California. The aim of the workshop was to raise awareness of the BBNJ Agreement and the obligations that may be placed on researchers working in the ocean in areas beyond national jurisdiction as well as explaining the different options being discussed for regulating digital sequence information.

In the last few years, significant policy changes have occurred that may affect how marine natural products research is conducted. Whilst the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing regulates access to marine biodiversity within a state’s jurisdiction, a new UN Agreement will regulate access to biological materials in the ocean beyond national jurisdiction (the UN Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction or BBNJ Agreement). The Nagoya protocol is widely known amongst the research community, however, researchers are often less familiar with the BBNJ Agreement, including its significance, implications, and related aspects. 

Introduction to BBNJ

The workshop was presented in an informal way to an audience of both academics, early career researchers and PhD students. Geodemographic ranged between US, Europe, Asia and even few from Australia and Africa. The first part of the workshop was dedicated to learning more about the level of knowledge of workshop participants and covering the basics of the BBNJ Agreement, its objectives and its differences from the Nagoya protocol. Areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) nearly make up two thirds of the ocean and belong to all but no one in particular – it is a global common. The BBNJ treaty, which includes binding and voluntary measures, aims to better implement the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, especially to protect and conserve the vast geographical area through better cooperation and coordination of various stakeholders. 

Initial questions for workshop participants:

  • What is your awareness level on topics such as the Nagoya Protocol, BBNJ Agreement and DSI (Digital Sequence Information) –  (between none to super expert)?
  • Do you know what “BBNJ” stands for?
  • What do you think should be included in MGR (Marine Genetic Resources)?

Responses showed that around 50% of the workshop participants knew of the Nagoya Protocol, while only 10-15% of the participants were aware of the remaining two topics. With regards to the BBNJ acronym, many participants related it to terms such as “Biodiversity”, “National”, and “Jurisdiction” however few people knew the meaning behind the acronym. 


The BBNJ Treaty defines marine genetic resource as: any material of marine plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity of actual or potential value.


Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs) and a Real Case Scenario

Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs), make up a substantive element of the BBNJ Treaty: The benefit sharing requirements in the Treaty include physical materials associated with marine genetic resources and associated digital sequence information. The Treaty established a mechanism for a fair and equitable sharing of benefits associated with MGRs of areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) and associated digital sequence information.

Based on this, an important focus as part of the workshop was given to a slide outlining a hypothetical case scenario, specifying the expectations for research cruise expeditions when following the BBNJ guidelines. This was followed up by a real case scenario of a research cruise involving marine genetic resources (MGR) from an area beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), called “Abyssine cream” (now on the market as Kiehl’s Abyssine Cream). Although there are many reported uses of MGRs in cosmetics and other personal care products, most of these are derived from organisms collected within national jurisdiction. However, this specific face cream contains materials derived from organisms collected in ABNJ, as it was derived from a French Research Cruise owned and conducted by IFREMER in 1987 (‘Hydronaut’ cruise), who collected a worm at a depth of 2625 m from a hydrothermal vent located on the East Pacific Rise, from which a microorganism was isolated. 

After the real life scenario, the workshop focused on what is happening next in the journey to ratification of the Treaty, also indicating where and how scientists can contribute (i.e. giving advice to governments and join DOSI). 

Final Part: Digital Sequence Information

The final part of the workshop covered the matter of Digital Sequence Information. As there is no real definition of this term in the Treaty, it can create quite a bit of confusion. There were discussions at the intergovernmental conference negotiations to define this term, but the countries could not reach a consensus on what it would constitute. The workshop highlighted the ongoing discussions in relation to this and also reminded the audience of the access and benefit sharing clause as one of the main points of the Treaty.

Audience Feedback on the Workshop

  • Over 80% thought the objectives of the workshop were outlined well.
  • 100% agreed that all topics were relevant and informational. 
  • Over 70% was happy to have unfamiliar topics highlighted or clarified.
  • Over 80% considered the workshop useful to their work and would be willing to provide advice to their governments. 
  • 100% stated that all presenters were knowledgeable about the subject.
  • And only 7.7% thought that the time allocated for the workshop (2h total) was not sufficient.