World leaders commit to conservation at first U.N. Ocean Conference

Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. And there may be nowhere on Earth that offers more hope for the global ocean than at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations (left) and Catherine Pollard, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly explore Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits via virtual reality in the Seafood Watch tent at the Ocean Festival in New York City. Photo by © OPGA/Ariana Lindquist

This morning at U.N. Headquarters, actor and ocean activist Leonardo DiCaprio called on the world’s nations to take action for our ocean. Director James Cameron presented a powerful short film by his Avatar Alliance Foundation, “What Would the Ocean Say?” And Adidas executive Eric Liedtke said his company aims to eliminate virgin plastic fiber from its supply chain.

In other words, people from across all sectors of society are coming together to address the most pressing challenges facing our global ocean. Pioneering chemist and astronaut Cady Coleman put the challenge this way: “We are, all of us, the crew of Spaceship Earth. This is our charter, and we must do the work.”

The power of partnership

A delegation from Monterey Bay Aquarium is in New York City this week to help do that work. We’re partnering with organizations, governments and businesses to reduce plastic pollution, address ocean acidification and improve the sustainability of global fisheries and aquaculture.

Boats cruise along New York City’s East River in Lower Manhattan as part of the Ocean March on June 4, 2017.

That spirit of partnership is the heart and the promise of the U.N. Ocean Conference. “I’m sure that you’re aware that the ocean is in deep trouble,” said Peter Thomson, president of the U.N. General Assembly. “The good news is that we’re working on solutions.”

Building up to the conference, the UN invited organizations, communities, agencies and businesses to register their ocean action pledges. The Aquarium is involved with nearly a dozen of these voluntary commitments, working with partners worldwide to support conservation efforts at the core of our mission. Among them:

Combating human rights abuses in seafood production

In March, Monterey Bay Aquarium co-convened a workshop bringing together key organizations in Monterey to discuss human trafficking, forced labor, fair wages, working conditions and basic human rights. The talks led to a new vision of social responsibility in the seafood sector, called the “Monterey Framework,” defining an agenda for positive change. Seafood sustainability isn’t just limited to environmental responsibility—it means ensuring the fair treatment of people, too. That’s why we’re a key partner in a commitment to social responsibility in global fisheries and aquaculture. We’re also collaborating on a new informational tool that business can use to assess the human rights risk in their seafood supply chains, an important first step to ending abuse.

Photo Jun 05, 3 46 33 PM
These metal bottles were given to Ocean Conference attendees as part of #OneLess, a campaign to encourage people to ditch single-use plastic bottles. The Aquarium was a partner in the project.

Reducing single-use plastics in aquariums

Almost nine million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year—about a dump truck full of plastic every minute. If nothing changes, the flow of plastic into the ocean is expected to double by 2025. But working together, we can shift away from single-use plastics and toward a culture of reuse and innovative alternatives.

A coalition of aquariums across North America, including Monterey Bay Aquarium, has committed to reducing single-use plastic in their institutions. That pledge includes cutting out all plastic straws and disposable plastic carryout bags by July, reducing plastic beverage bottles by 2020, and promoting alternatives to single-use plastic. (At Monterey Bay Aquarium, we’ve already ditched disposable plastic straws, bags and beverage bottles.)

Acting on ocean acidification

This ocean-themed art outside the UN Headquarters is made from plastic trash recovered during beach cleanups.

The ocean absorbs about one-third of the excess carbon we pump into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. That prevents our planet from warming at an even faster rate (thanks, ocean!)—but it comes with a price. The buildup of carbon dioxide makes the ocean’s water more acidic, and  some of the earliest impacts are already evident on the U.S. West Coast.

The State of California and Monterey Bay Aquarium are members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, a network of governments, businesses and organizations that are responding to the ocean’s changing chemistry. We’re also supporting California’s leadership in transitioning to a clean-energy economy—creating jobs while protecting the future of our ocean.

Tracking tuna through the supply chain

At the launch of the Tuna 2020 Declaration, Julie Packard (center) said we need immediate, science-based solutions for sustainable tuna.

With the “Tuna 2020” pledge, announced at the start of the U.N. Ocean Conference, businesses worldwide are pledging to sell only tuna products that are traceable back to the point of harvest. Traceability allows companies to ensure that the tuna they buy was caught legally and produced in a way that respects both the environment and workers’ rights.

Monterey Bay Aquarium supports this commitment, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is a key partner. “Now is the time to address traceability in the tuna supply chain in a meaningful way,” said Aquarium Executive Director and Packard Foundation Vice Chairman Julie Packard.

Hope for our blue planet

On World Oceans Day, famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle told participants in the U.N. Ocean Conference that we are all stakeholders in the ocean’s health.

“What do you care about—the economy, health, security? All of us care about life itself, our very existence,” she said. “There’s plenty of reason for hope in the face of what seems to be a lot of despair. We know that there are actions we can take.”

-Kera Abraham Panni

Learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s work to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, protect wildlife and ecosystems, take climate action for the ocean, and improve seafood sustainability.

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