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Obama Expands Marine Reserves; DiCaprio Applauds Sea Stewardship
June 18, 2014

Man walks in front of sign reading "Our Ocean"
Actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio walks onstage to speak at the second day of the State Department’s Our Ocean conference in Washington June 17.

17 June 2014

Speaking to an audience of environmental officials and activists from 80 nations June 17, President Obama announced two executive actions to better protect U.S. ocean territories. He ordered an expansion of existing marine protected areas surrounding Pacific Remote Islands, and he set in motion stronger government action against illegal fishing.

In a recorded message to the Our Ocean conference at the State Department, Obama said he will direct U.S. agencies “to create a national strategy to combat black market fishing that threatens our oceans, undermines our economy and often supports dangerous criminals.”

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) is a global problem that threatens fish stocks and entire ecosystems with a “scorched earth” approach to fishing, according to experts. Such illegal practices are widely decried by environmental activists, like U.S. actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who also appeared at the Our Ocean conference.

DiCaprio described destructive practices like bottom trawling, “where huge nets drag across the bottom of the ocean for miles, literally scraping up everything in their path, permanently destroying abundant underwater forests, teeming with every imaginable form of wildlife.”

DiCaprio welcomed President Obama’s actions to increase marine protections, but the celebrity guest made an announcement of his own: He pledged $7 million to support “meaningful ocean conservation projects over the next two years.” The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation granted $3 million to a shark conservation project earlier in 2014.

DiCaprio’s philanthropic work in marine conservation derives from his experiences as an avid scuba diver. He recounted an experience of his own firsthand observation of the “devastation” of the marine environment, comparing what he saw during a dive near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef 20 years ago to what he saw in the same place two years ago.

“What once had looked like an endless underwater Utopia is now full of bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones,” DiCaprio said.

DiCaprio echoed statements that Kerry and Obama have made about the importance of environmental action to protect marine resources and reduce carbon dioxide emissions to reverse climate change. Solutions are available; science and conservation groups have demonstrated how marine damage can be reversed. The political will and the initiative are all that’s lacking, he said.

“Oceans are our lifeblood,” DiCaprio said. He called on the government leaders and environmental activists to provide leadership to find the solutions.