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Access and Benefit Sharing underwater

With the expansion of the ABS Capacity Development Initiative's activities to the Pacific and Caribbean regions, marine bioprospecting and related ABS mechanisms increased in importance.

The underwater world offers nearly endless genetic resources. Some are already being utilized for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, food or biotechnological purposes.

For instance, the properties of the venom of the widely distributed predatory sea snail Conus magus led to the development of a synthetical conotoxin called ziconotide. It is reported to be 1,000 times more powerful than morphine.

Patented in 1998 by a United States (US)-based pharmaceutical company, ziconotide was approved under the name Prialt by the US Food and Drug Administration in December 2004. In February 2005, the European Union (EU) approved ziconotide for treatment of chronic and intractable pain caused by AIDS, cancer, neurological disorders and other maladies.

The jellyfish Aequorea victoria is another good example. The luminescent properties of this jellyfish were harnessed to watch the movement, positions and interactions of proteins "tagged" with the jellyfish's naturally occurring green fluorescence.

There is undoubtedly great ABS potential in marine genetic resources, especially for the so-called Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which hold substantial marine areas under their national jurisdiction.

In this regard, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for business, the environment and the management of marine natural resources.

According to UNCLOS, coastal nations have the exclusive right to regulate, authorize and conduct marine scientific research in their territorial sea and exclusive economic zones. In these areas under national jurisdiction, the Nagoya Protocol applies with its specific provisions on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. In the area beyond national jurisdiction all states have the right to conduct research; no Prior Informed Consent (PIC) from an international authority or benefit sharing is required.