Conservation & Science

Our Ocean 2015: A global commitment to ocean health

Ocean issues were front and center this week when Secretary of State John Kerry joined other world leaders this week in Valparaiso, Chile for the second Our Ocean Conference. The United States and other coastal nations made significant commitments to improve the health and sustainable use of our global seas.  

We’re pleased to see that many of these commitments tackle some of the Aquarium’s Conservation & Science priorities: promoting marine protected areas, advancing sustainable fisheries, reducing ocean plastic pollution and slowing climate change. Policy Director Aimee David represented the Aquarium at the conference.

“It’s so encouraging to see Secretary Kerry, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and other global leaders come together to acknowledge how important the ocean is to our future,” Aimee says. “More importantly, they’ve committed to specific, concrete actions that address the most serious challenges facing the ocean today.” Among the highlights:

New Marine Protected Areas

President Bachelet designated new marine protected areas (MPAs) off Desventuradas Islands and Easter Island, totaling more than 350,000 square miles – an area the size of Italy. Two new MPAs will be designated in the South Pacific: New Zealand will create one off the Kermadec Islands, and the United Kingdom will create another at Pitcairn Islands. The commitments bring the total area of global ocean covered by marine protections from 0.94 percent to 1.64 percent. While heartening, it’s still a long way from the international goal of covering 10 percent of the global ocean by 2020.

The United States created two new national marine sanctuaries: one in Lake Michigan and these tidal waters in the Potomac River. Photo courtesy NOAA
The United States created two new national marine sanctuaries: one in Lake Michigan and these tidal waters in the Potomac River. Photo courtesy NOAA

In a video message, President Barack Obama announced two new national marine sanctuaries in the United States: An 875-square-mile reserve in Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan, and a 14-square-mile area of the tidal Potomac River in Maryland. Secretary Kerry announced that the Administration is working toward designating a third new marine protected area in waters off the Atlantic coast.

The United States and Cuba also announced that they have agreed to work together to protect and preserve the marine creatures that live between the two nations, in the Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico.

Combating Illegal Fishing

Secretary Kerry also announced a new multi-national initiative called Sea Scout that will coordinate and amplify individual nation’s actions to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a major threat to the long term sustainability of ocean resources. The program will help crack down on IUU fishing organizations and networks around the world that are undermining law-abiding, sustainable fishing operations.

A new polar-orbiting satellite will monitor illegal fishing activity on the high seas. Photo courtesy NASA
A new polar-orbiting satellite will monitor illegal fishing activity on the high seas. Photo courtesy NASA

Another cool new tool in this effort is a space-based sensor called the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which detects the lights on illegal fishing boats. VIIRS will roll out in 2016 in Indonesia, the Philippines, and three other nations to increase global marine domain awareness.    

In addition, Secretary Kerry  announced plans for a new seafood traceability program that will track shrimp, cod, tuna and other at-risk species from harvest to market. By 2017, the program aims to cover all seafood imported into the United States. Better seafood tracking will strengthen the nation’s ability to reduce IUU fishing, which is responsible for 20-32 percent of wild-caught seafood imports into the United States, according to a recent study. The traceability program will help the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch team identify and promote sustainable fisheries and aquaculture products to U.S. consumers and businesses.     

Fishackathon logoOn April 22-24, 2016, Monterey Bay Aquarium will be among the institutions hosting the State Department’s third annual #Fishackathon. This public-private partnership, with simultaneous events in cities worldwide, invites coders to create new cell phone apps and other digital tools to promote sustainable fisheries. A UC-Berkeley team hosted by the Aquarium took top honors in the inaugural 2014 Fishackathon.

Reducing Ocean Plastic Pollution

At the Our Ocean Conference, Secretary Kerry also stressed the importance of combating ocean plastic pollution. Eight million metric tons of plastic flow from the land into the ocean every year; scientists predict that if the international community doesn’t act, there will soon be one ton of plastic in the sea for every three tons of fish. A new partnership between the U.S. and China will launch pilot projects to reduce the rate of ocean plastic pollution. In June, the U.S. joined other G7 nations in committing to place a priority on actions – and solutions – to reduce marine litter, including plastic pollution.

Addressing Ocean Impacts of Climate Change

Secretary Kerry underscored the importance of the upcoming international climate talks in Paris to broker long-term solutions to carbon emissions – the gravest threat to ocean health. He noted that nearly a third of carbon emissions end up getting absorbed by the ocean.

“As a result, the sea is acidifying 10 times faster than at any point in history, stunting the growth of shellfish, degrading coral reefs, and putting the entire marine food web at risk,” he said. He announced that the U.S. will invest $500 million in an ocean observing system that deploys more than 800 instruments to monitor ocean acidification and other environmental changes.

Learn more about our work to assure a future with healthy oceans.

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