Secretary Kerry has a profound interest in protecting the ocean and has made this a focus for American diplomacy. This June, he hosted the Our Ocean conference in Washington, where hundreds of participants from almost 90 countries gathered to share lessons learned, the best science, and commitments for action.
While speaking in Sydney, Australia, this week, Secretary Kerry reminded us why we all need to care about the ocean: life itself depends on our relationship with the ocean. The ocean covers almost three quarters of the planet. It gives us food to eat, the air we breathe, and livelihoods for millions of people. It regulates our weather and our climate. It is a tremendous resource that must be used wisely.
But the ocean and its resources are threatened today as never before. Almost one third of marine fisheries are overexploited. Runoff and debris from land are choking the ocean and creating dead zones where life cannot exist. The very chemistry of our ocean waters is becoming more acidic because of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere.
We know we need to do more to protect the ocean. We must end overfishing and prevent illegal fishing. We must reduce nutrient pollution and trash entering our waters. We must limit ocean acidification by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We must protect more ocean areas.
This is a daunting list, but there are some concrete steps we can take. Let’s bring into force the Port State Measures Agreement – an innovative new treaty empowering countries to ensure that foreign vessels do not land illegally caught fish in their ports. We need 15 more countries to join this treaty before it will come into force. The United States is close to joining.
Let’s all commit to creating less trash – and recycling or disposing of it properly – so it doesn’t end up along our coasts and in our ocean.
Let’s continue to work hard to cut carbon emissions – through a new international climate agreement that is ambitious, effective, and inclusive of all countries, particularly the largest emitters.
Let’s create more well-managed marine protected areas. The United States has been working with New Zealand and many others to create the world’s largest marine protected area off Antarctica and is looking here at home to expand protections for some of our most precious marine areas in the Pacific Ocean.
As Secretary Kerry said this week in Australia, we have a common responsibility to protect the ocean so that we can preserve it for generations to come. Let’s create a new consciousness about that responsibility and about the extraordinary connection we all have to the ocean. Let’s all do our part.
About the Author: Anne Hall serves as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.