Kerry Recruits Partners to Seek Sustainable Ocean Solutions

Citizens came together to pick up ocean-borne garbage in the Philippines’ Manila Bay on World Oceans Day in June 2013.

Citizens came together to pick up ocean-borne garbage in the Philippines’ Manila Bay on World Oceans Day in June 2013.

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
25 February 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry plans to focus international diplomacy on the threats to the world’s oceans and the resources they provide to humankind in a June conference in Washington.

Kerry announced the upcoming meeting February 25 while speaking via video link to the World Ocean Summit, convened in San Francisco February 24–25. Kerry called the challenges now threatening the marine environment among the most complex global problems of this era.

The secretary of state is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a lifelong sailor and fisherman. These biographical facts have made the oceans a “huge part” of his life, he told the San Francisco audience. Children of the future may never enjoy comparable experiences, he said, if the world fails to act.

“We have to summon the global cooperation, to take the steps necessary for generations to come,” Kerry said.

The economic imperative is also huge, Kerry said, with the oceans and their yields providing income and protein for 1 billion of the world’s people.

Addressing a conference co-hosted by The Economist and National Geographic, Kerry outlined what he considers the three major threats to the oceans and marine life: overfishing; pollution from garbage, debris and fertilizers, flowing from land to sea; and greenhouse gas emissions.

Overfishing is depleting the bounty of many of the oceans’ greatest fisheries, Kerry said. While a significant sector of the fishing industry is using sustainable fishing practices, those regulations are also widely ignored, Kerry said. Drawing on his experience with this issue as a U.S. senator, Kerry said no enforcement mechanism is in place to patrol the seas and effectively deter illegal practices.

The effort to curtail ocean pollution by agricultural run-off containing nitrogen and phosphorous is another urgent priority. “This kind of practice has contributed to some 500 areas throughout the oceans of the world where marine life simply does not exist,” Kerry said. “They’re called dead zones for a reason.”

These chemicals may come from sources hundreds of kilometers inland, and controlling those will require broad political support, Kerry said. The same is true for greenhouse gases being absorbed by the oceans and creating a level of acidification that harms marine life and causes further damage up the food chain. Protection of coral reefs and preservation of marine species both depend on reducing the levels of greenhouse gases, according to the U.S. official.

As he outlined these threats to the oceans, Kerry also offered some potential solutions. The United States and some other countries have made significant progress in controlling overfishing. More progress could be made, he said, with regulations that would require verification that fishing boats used legal, sustainable methods when they bring their catch to market.

“More sustainable agriculture processes would go a long way on cutting down on nutrient pollution,” Kerry said, in offering another solution to a problem disrupting marine life and water quality.

Increasing the legal protections that governments offer to coastal waters through the designation of marine sanctuaries is another conservation strategy Kerry suggested.

He called on some 250 business, government, scientific and civil society attendees at the World Ocean Summit to help the Obama administration build a broad political consensus to address ocean issues. He said representatives from the many private and public sectors with ocean interests must come together to find shared and enforceable solutions.

The World Ocean Summit is sponsored by Google, Maersk Line and J.B. Blancpain, a luxury watch manufacturer.

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