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.
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.”
The ocean produces half the oxygen we breathe, regulates climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon, and is the primary source of protein for 3.5 billion people. More than 80 percent of the Earth’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. But these and other critical benefits are fast eroding as growing human needs strain the ocean’s living systems.
From June 5-9, the United Nations will take on the challenge when it hosts its first Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City—a global gathering focused on protecting the ocean resources so vital to human survival.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium will play a significant role in the conference, advocating for policies to reduce single-use plastic, new commitments that promote sustainable international fisheries, and concerted action to tackle ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change.
“The ocean plays a vital role in enabling life on Earth to exist, yet ocean health has been ignored for too long by international decision-makers,” says Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The U.N. Ocean Conference is a signal that things are changing. We’ll be there as a voice for the living ocean on which our future depends.”
Julie notes that the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean mirrors the priorities that Monterey Bay Aquarium works to advance, in the United States and around the world. Key staff will contribute to Ocean Conference forums on critical issues, including:
Improving the sustainability of global fisheries
Through our Seafood Watch program and extensive international policy work, the aquarium plays a respected and influential role – among governments, major businesses, producers and consumers – in shifting global seafood production in more sustainable directions.
As the conference begins, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard will be part of a World Economic Forum announcement and discussion about new commitments from major seafood businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna fishing around the world.
Last year, we championed California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. This summer, we’ll launch a collaborative campaign involving 20 leading North American aquariums to reduce consumer demand for single-use plastic products – from drinking straws to shopping bags.
On Sunday, June 4, our Seafood Watch team will be part of a day-long World Ocean Festival, a free event on Governors Island in New York Harbor that precedes Monday’s opening of the U.N. Ocean Conference. We’ll host a public exhibit space about sustainable fisheries and aquaculture opportunities, and a Seafood Watch expert will be part of a sustainable seafood presentation during the festival.
And in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, Ocean Conservancy and the Zoological Society of London, we will promote the #OneLess initiative, aimed at inspiring Ocean Conference delegates and the public to reduce single-use plastic products like water bottles. The campaign will distribute reusable water bottles to conference attendees, and will encourage delegates to promote policies that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.
World leaders are coming together this week to address the biggest threats to our shared global ocean, but we all have a role to play. You can make a difference through small changes, such as driving less, switching to reusable water bottles and following Seafood Watch recommendations.
We hope you’ll join us in protecting our living ocean, on which all life depends.
Statement of Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on global climate change:
“Monterey Bay Aquarium cheered when, less than two years ago, 195 of the world’s 197 nations agreed: Climate change poses an existential threat to human society, and the people of the world must act together to limit its primary driver, the burning of fossil fuels. This unprecedented global consensus was reinforced by strong commitments from business leaders in the United States and around the world to invest in innovative clean energy technologies that will create jobs and build a sustainable future.
“We are so proud of the State of California’s global leadership in accelerating climate solutions and growing a clean-energy economy. This is essential in order to preserve the health of the ocean – our life support system on Earth. It’s the source of half the oxygen we breathe and the primary source of protein for more than one billion people.
“The ocean absorbs much of the carbon dioxide we produce when we burn fossil fuels, buffering us from the full impact of global climate change. But it’s paying a price in ways that will limit its ability to produce the oxygen and food we need to survive. As sea level rises in a warming ocean, we’ll face other significant threats to our national security, as people worldwide are displaced from their homes along the coast.
As the first United Nations Ocean Conference prepares to open next week in New York, a new research paper calls on marine scientists around the world to focus on social issues such as human rights violations in the seafood industry. The initiative is the first integrated approach to meeting this global challenge and includes an official commitment to social responsibility in global fisheries and aquaculture that will be unveiled both at the U.N. Ocean Conference and at the Seafood Summit in Seattle.
Both the paper and the commitment are the result of a yearlong collaboration initiated by Conservation International, finalized earlier this year in Monterey when Monterey Bay Aquarium convened key seafood and human rights NGOs. Their discussions of human trafficking, forced labor, fair wages, working conditions and basic human rights led to a new vision of social responsibility in the seafood sector. The resulting “Monterey Framework” establishes an agenda to change current practices in ways that benefit workers and the environment.
The social responsibility article, published on June 1 in the journal Science, is in direct response to investigative reports by the Associated Press, the Guardian, the New York Times and other media outlets that uncovered glaring human rights violations on fishing vessels. The investigations tracked the widespread use of slave labor in Southeast Asia and its role in bringing seafood to American restaurants and supermarkets, and chronicled the plight of fishermen tricked and trapped into working 22-hour days, often without pay and while enduring abuse.
Subsequent investigations have documented the global extent of these abuses in a wide array of countries.
“The scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the seafood sector,” says Jack Kittinger, senior director of global fisheries and aquaculture for Conservation International. “The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that governments, businesses, and nonprofits are working together to improve human rights, equality and food and livelihood security. This is a holistic and comprehensive approach that establishes a global standard to address these social challenges.”
As part of the initiative, Conservation International, in collaboration with the Aquarium and other partners, has organized a voluntary commitment, calling on governments, NGOs, businesses and other organizations to improve social responsibility in the seafood sector.
The paper identifies three key principles that together establish a global standard for social responsibility in the seafood sector: protecting human rights, dignity and respecting access to resources; ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit; and improving food and livelihood security.
Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. By 2030, the ocean will need to supply more than 150 million metric tons of seafood to meet the demands of a growing human population. The paper calls on governments, businesses and the scientific community to take measurable steps to ensure seafood is sourced without harm to the environment and people that work in the seafood industry.