E&E: Kerry’s ‘Our Ocean’ conference spurs domestic and global commitments to sea conservation

Elspeth Dehnert, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The State Department’s “Our Ocean” conference, hosted by Secretary of
State John Kerry, concluded yesterday with well over $1 billion in
pledges to protect and preserve the world’s oceans.

For two consecutive days, heads of state, foreign ministers,
policymakers, scientists, environmentalists and experts from nearly 90
countries, gathered at the department’s Washington, D.C., headquarters
with the goal of developing strategies to combat marine pollution,
overfishing and ocean acidification.

President Obama led the charge early in the day when he announced
plans to make a vast portion of the south-central Pacific Ocean off
limits to energy exploration, fishing and other harmful activities,
thereby creating one of the largest ocean preserves in the world.

The administration will attempt to expand the Pacific Remote Islands
Marine National Monument with the guidance of scientists, fishermen,
conservation experts and elected officials.

“If we drain our oceans of resources, we won’t just be squandering one
of humanity’s greatest treasures, we’ll be cutting off one of the
world’s major sources of food and economic growth,” Obama said in a
video message. “And we can’t afford to let that happen.”

The president also said he will be directing federal agencies to
develop a comprehensive program to combat black-market fishing by
addressing seafood fraud and preventing illegally caught fish from
entering the marketplace.

Other domestic efforts include $102 million in Department of Interior
grants to restore natural barriers and floodplains, such as the
wetlands and marshes that run along the Atlantic Coast, and the
release of a white paper on ocean acidification by the White House
Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Now that’s just some of what we’re planning to do here in the United
States,” Kerry said. “But as President Obama made clear this morning,
we’re really just getting started.”

A global effort

The island country of Palau will be following in the United States’
footsteps with the creation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary,
which will protect up to 500,000 square kilometers, or 80 percent, of
the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone by banning industrial-scale
fishing in the area.

“Palau comes to the table with a call for more marine protected
areas,” said the country’s president, Tommy Remengesau Jr. “It’s not a
one-size-fits-all formula but a call for all of us to put a share of
the solution on the table.”

Norway, meanwhile, made one of the biggest strides with a pledge to
allocate more than $1 billion for climate change mitigation and
assistance, including a substantial contribution to the Green Climate
Fund. The Scandinavian country also said it will spend more than $150
million to promote sustainable fisheries and put $1 million toward a
study looking at ways to combat marine plastic waste and

“We need clean and protected oceans to safeguard our existence,” said
Norway Foreign Minister Børge Brende. “The better we take care of the
ocean, the better the ocean can help us take care of our needs.”

Hollywood was also present at the event in the form of award-winning
actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave opening remarks alongside Kerry and
pledged $7 million to ocean conservation projects. “I’ve learned about
the incredibly important role our oceans play on the survival of all
life on Earth,” he said, “and I’ve decided to join so many people and
others that are working here today to protect this vital treasure.”

Souring seas in the spotlight

Conference speaker Carol Turley, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in
the United Kingdom, rang the alarm bells on the rapid pace of global

ocean acidification, saying “it is happening at a speed we haven’t
seen for millions of years.”

“If we keep doing what we’re doing,” she added, “we’re going to end up
with a world that is between 3 and 6 degrees warmer and end up with
seas that are between 100 and 150 times more acidic.”

NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan later announced that the federal
agency will contribute more than $9 million over the next three years
to the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network. It is a financial
boost that Kerry said will enable the international effort to “better
monitor ocean acidification around the world.”

“And so out of this conference has come more — a commitment to a
combination of effort with respect to climate and oceans, but
specifically focused on acidification and sea level rise,” said the
secretary of State.

“We will convene again,” he concluded. “It will be in Peru, and after

that maybe back here. We will convene again.”
Senators vow to do more to address pollution, maintenance concerns

Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

At the State Department’s Our Ocean Conference, Sen. Sheldon
Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who co-chairs the Senate Oceans Caucus, yesterday
called for a greater focus on monitoring and tracking marine debris.

As the Obama administration advances ocean conservation, senators
passionate about the seas will likely take on some of those same
issues in Congress.

In an interview, caucus co-Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) later
said that the caucus has discussed “doing more.”

“Our reality is we might have these systems out there, if you don’t
maintain them, it’s tough to get the data you need,” the Alaska
Republican said.

The group also may take up ocean acidification, Murkowski said,
another of the oceans issues brought up at the conference. The problem
has long been acknowledged among the senators — it was discussed at
the caucus’s first meeting in 2011 — and at least one member of the
caucus, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), has repeatedly called attention
to the issue at hearings and on the Senate floor.

Murkowski noted that the caucus has done its part to advance another
issue on the administration’s agenda: dealing with illegal, unreported
and unregulated fishing. Earlier this year, the caucus served as the
force behind the Senate’s approval of four fishing treaties that have
long awaited ratification, including the Port State Measures

She said she was “encouraged” by President Obama’s announcement of a
national strategy to combat illegal fishing, noting that the issue has
gained some traction.

“I appreciate the fact that the president is looking at this as an
issue that is important not only from the conservation perspective but
also from the perspective of support for a major economic sector,” she
said. “We’ll see where the task force goes and the kind of direction

he gives it.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
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