A Report on the Our Ocean Conference 2016

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The third annual Our Ocean Conference was sponsored by the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State John Kerry. September 15–16, 2016. Malta has announced plans to host the 2017 conference, followed by Indonesia in 2018 and Norway in 2019.

“We are not going to be the prisoners of history. We are going to change the course of history; we must honor our responsibility to future generations.”

So stated U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in his opening remarks at the two-day Our Ocean Conference hosted by the U.S. State Department on September 15 and 16 in Washington, D.C. In two days of presentations and events, more than 135 initiatives were announced, creating a movement which has, as Secretary Kerry described, “unstoppable momentum.” This conference, the third of its kind, was an opportunity for representatives of more than 50 countries to make commitments for marine protection and for mitigation of carbon emissions, ocean acidification, marine debris and illegal and unregulated fishing. The conference focused on four key ocean areas: marine pollution, sustainable fisheries, marine protection, and climate-related ocean impacts. The conference was attended by Trisha Badger, World Ocean Observatory Managing Director, who filed this report for World Ocean Radio:

In the area of marine protection, the United States announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to include an additional 1,146,798 square kilometers, thus creating the world’s largest marine protect area. During the morning of the first day of the conference, the U.S. also announced the establishment of a 12,725 square kilometer marine monument at Cashes Ledge off Rhode Island, the first of its kind in the Atlantic. Announcements then followed by the Seychelles, the United Kingdom, Micronesia, Canada, Ecuador, Cambodia, Palau. All-in-all, more than 4 million square kilometers of ocean were newly pledged to fisheries protection and sustainability.

In the area of sustainable fisheries, there were many new commitments by countries to join the Safe Ocean Network — a global initiative aimed at combating all aspects of illegal fishing including detection, enforcement, and prosecution. Thus far more than US$82 million have been committed to projects and efforts to better secure global fisheries through the Network. The Port State Measures Agreement was also discussed during the morning session, an agreement that entered into force in June of this year, with 35 parties involved thus far. More than $308 million in commitments followed during the sustainable fisheries forum, with partnerships between government, businesses, and NGOs formed for new research initiatives to combat illegal fishing, unsustainable practices, and over-exploitation of resources.

In the area of marine pollution, multiple projects were announced and many millions pledged to mitigate marine debris and plastic pollution. Many coastal countries are now recognizing the brevity of the marine pollution problem and are committed to dedicating funds, resources and collaborative time and efforts to Beyond Plastic strategies that will clean up the ocean and stop the stream of plastic entering the marine environment through waterways. New policies were also announced by Costa Rica, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia to minimize runoff, clean up solid waste, assess mercury contamination, and improve upstream fresh water quality.

In the area of climate effects on ocean environments, many additional millions were pledged to develop global ocean satellite systems, improve ocean mapping, to train more ocean scientists to monitor acidification, to protect and restore mangroves, to improve sustainable aquaculture projects, to assess climate change resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), improved research on glacial melt and global sea level rise. Many more commitments were made to improve coral reef health, reduce carbon emissions 25% by 2020, to increase climate resiliency by protecting important habitats, restoring bays, establishing coastal forests and the green belt, and recovering important coastal wetlands.

In the area of capacity building, the morning of day two of the conference saw pledges exceeding US$1 billion to advance ocean protections, increase ocean research, develop new partnerships and initiatives, and to develop crowd-sourcing solutions to global ocean issues.

What is unusual and impressive about these commitments is their size, the additional funds added to national commitments already made, and the public and private source of the pledges made. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation in California, for example, committed US$550 million over five years to ocean research, a significant amount from a private source especially in a time when public funds are being questioned and cut by government indifference to climate change and its impact on the world ocean.

The news cycle will quickly shift again to U.S. presidential politics and to the UN general assembly, which takes place in New York City this month. But the actions set in motion during Our Ocean 2016 will continue well past last week’s gathering, and organizations such as the World Ocean Observatory will be there to monitor and report on the progress and expansion of such collaborations and commitments.

To learn more about the Our Ocean Conference, visit ourocean2016.org. To share what you are doing to protect the ocean, visit 1000oceanactions.org.

Peter Neill is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean. Online at worldoceanobservatory.org. Peter Neill is author of “The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society” available now.

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Dedicated to sharing information about ocean issues: climate to trade, culture to governance. The sea connects all things. Online at WorldOceanObservatory.org.

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