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5 Ocean Victories of 2021

We’ve made great progress for our ocean this year

OceanImageBank_TobyMatthews_56
© Toby Matthews/Ocean Image Bank

2021 has not been without its challenges. But when I look back on this year, I am so energized by what we have accomplished for our ocean. Through a changing administration, an ongoing global pandemic and a tumultuous political environment, we at Ocean Conservancy have never lost sight of our goal of a healthy and resilient ocean that supports us all. I am so proud of what we have achieved together, and it makes me incredibly hopeful for 2022. But for now, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of the greatest accomplishments for our ocean this year. Here are five major victories I am celebrating:

Rejoining the Paris Agreement and Making Waves at COP26

We started the year with the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement, marking a critical step for the health of our country, our ocean and our planet. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding agreement on climate change that was signed in 2015 by almost 200 countries. As signers, these countries committed to identifying emissions-reduction goals, reporting on those goals and ultimately mitigating their greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global average temperature increase to less than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. Despite former President Trump withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in 2017, Americans continued to demand climate action, with almost 70% of U.S. voters supporting participating in the agreement. We were grateful that President Biden and his administration prioritized climate change within his first 100 days in office—our ocean, its communities and all of us will benefit.

A critical part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference COP26 brought together leaders, advocates and activists from around the globe and marked a critical moment for the climate and our ocean. The conference was packed with exciting announcements for our ocean, including a declaration that committed to establishing at least six green shipping corridors this decade and one that committed to working towards zero emissions for shipping by 2050. These announcements, among other conversations at COP26, represent a huge step forward towards recognizing the impacts of climate change on the ocean and the role ocean-based solutions can play in addressing the crisis.

Building for our Ocean and Coasts

In November, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) which makes long-overdue investments into a wide range of things including ports, waterways, roads, bridges, drinking water and even broadband access. With the passage of the IIJA, we celebrated nearly $1 billion for coastal restoration, $2.25 billion for port infrastructure and $200 million for marine debris prevention and removal. This overall investment into American infrastructure was a huge achievement for our ocean and represents a significant opportunity for the United States to invest more in solutions to mitigate and make our communities more resilient to climate change.

Protecting our National Monuments

In October, the Biden Administration restored environmental protections to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. This was a critical step in the effort to conserve our shared natural resources—especially because former President Trump’s rollback of these protections was unprecedented and unlawful. As the only national monument off the Atlantic coast, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts represents only 1.5 percent of the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. However, as one of our nation’s most special ocean places, this monument offers a wealth of opportunity for scientific exploration and discovery, tourism and recreation, and provides critical habitat for marine life. Actions like these rightfully demonstrate our nation’s commitment to protecting special lands and waters.

Upholding Arctic Safeguards

The 2016 Arctic Drilling Rule—an important federal regulation designed to protect the Arctic Ocean from the potentially catastrophic impacts of exploratory oil drilling—is no longer under threat. Last year, the Trump administration proposed regulatory changes that would have stripped away vital safety and environmental protection standards, making it easier and cheaper for oil companies to drill in U.S. Arctic waters. In February, the Department of the Interior—now under new leadership—announced it was dropping the Trump administration’s plan to weaken the 2016 Arctic Drilling Rule, recognizing it is “critical to ensuring adequate safety and environmental protections for this sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native subsistence activities.”

Joining together for #TeamSeas

Sometimes great collaborations come from unexpected places. This year, thousands of YouTube creators and millions of fans joined together to remove trash from our planet’s waterways. YouTubers MrBeast, Mark Rober and thousands of other creators joined together to launch TeamSeas, a crowd-funded campaign with the goal of raising $30 million dollars by January 1 to remove 30 million pounds of trash from rivers, beaches and our ocean. Ocean Conservancy was chosen as the beaches and ocean partner for the campaign—a testament to our 36-year history of mobilizing the International Coastal Cleanup® and, more recently, removing lost and discarded fishing gear from waters around the world through our Global Ghost Gear Initiative® work. As of now, supporters have raised funds to remove over 20 million pounds of trash!

To be honest, it was difficult to choose just five ocean victories this year. If you want to learn more about the great things we’ve accomplished together for our ocean, check out our blog and recent press releases.

I can’t wait to see what we can do for our ocean in 2022—let’s get started!

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