World Leaders Talk Problems and Solutions at the Our Ocean Conference

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Guest Blogger

Secretary of State John Kerry recently hosted the Our Ocean Conference at the Department of State earlier this week. Secretary Kerry invited world leaders, scientists, activists, and ocean lovers to come together to learn more about overfishing, marine debris and ocean acidification. The conference didn’t just focus on the problems of today. Governments, nonprofits and private businesses all offered solutions for tomorrow.

Ocean Conservancy was honored to attend and participate in the conference. Andreas Merkl, our president and CEO, spoke on the panel about marine debris. He echoed the threats plastic poses to marine life and how we can work together to make our seas trash free. Alexis Valauri-Orton, an intern for our ocean acidification program, presented on her travels and how ocean acidification could potentially affect coastal communities all over the world. And I was lucky enough to live tweet all the excitement from the front row of the main room! Below are the major takeaways from the Our Ocean Conference.

The Problems

“It’s our ocean. It’s our responsibility,” said Secretary Kerry when he opened the Conference. It’s a responsibility we haven’t been handling very well. More than three billion people depend on seafood as a major source of protein. However, certain critical species aren’t being fished sustainably. They’re being fished at maximum capacity or being overfished entirely. Bycatch—fish caught unintentionally by fisherman and often discarded—puts threatened and endangered species at further risk.  Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing doesn’t just threaten marine species. It endangers food security for billions of people.

Roughly 80 percent of ocean trash originates on land and the bulk of that is made up of plastic. Trash can be swept into ocean currents and end up in areas with high concentrations of plastics called gyres. The plastic threat goes even deeper than what we can see. Plastic degrades into micro pieces where it can be accidentally consumed by marine life and seabirds.

The chemistry of our ocean is changing. It is absorbing excess amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This phenomenon is acidifying ocean water. Ocean acidification threatens shellfish, coral and other marine species. An acidifying ocean’s impact doesn’t stop there though. People whose livelihoods depend on shellfish and tourism are at risk of losing everything due to ocean acidification.

The Solutions

It’s clear that inaction is not an option. Luckily, this conference seems to be a catalyst for ocean change. More than $1.8 billion was promised from various attendees to protect the ocean.

President Barack Obama promised to take steps to create a marine protected area bigger than the state of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean. The federal government will work with stakeholders to develop the exact boundaries, but the area will focus around expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This is expected to protect threatened sea turtles and two dozen types of marine mammals. President Obama also tasked federal agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan to combat illegal fishing.

The United States pledged an investment of more than $9 million over three years in ocean acidification research.

Borge Brende, the foreign minister of Norway, pledged more than $150 million to sustainable fishing around the world on behalf of his country.

Kenred Dorsett from The Bahamas pledged that his country will expand their marine protected areas to cover at least 10 percent of its near-shore marine environment.

Actor and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, promised to invest $7 million for ocean conservation efforts through his foundation.

Foreign minister of Chile, Hugo Munoz, invited the attendees of the Our Ocean Conference 2014 to his country for next year’s global ocean conference.

There’s even more YOU can do though. You can help by pledging to the skip the straw or by volunteering to clean up your local beaches and shorelines. Please also join us in thanking President Obama and Secretary Kerry for protecting our ocean.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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